Brag mask

Height: 60cm

Wood, ochre pigment

Presumed period: first half of 20th century

Sepik River mouth stylistic area

Eastern Sepik Province

Papua New Guinea

Provenance :

Hermann Mark Lissauer Collection, Melbourne

Crispin Howarth1 Collection, Canberra (by donation of the above)


This large mask is oval in shape, with the face surrounded by a fretworked pattern that borders the lower half, called tared or hound’s teeth. A small, pierced mouth is set beneath an insect-like nose curved at the tip, with a pierced septum. Circular eyes are surmounted by a broad, tapered forehead.

Rectangular holes are drilled around the periphery for attaching a costume. A gripping hole allows the mask to be attached to a mobile support, leaning against a wall inside the ceremonial house.

The long, curved nose indicates that this mask does not represent a human figure, but a spirit figure known as a brag. It was not worn, but attached to a large bamboo superstructure that rose more than three meters above the dancer’s head.

According to Philippe Peltier (« Sepik, arts de Papouasie Nouvelle Guinée ». Musée du quai Branly, 2015. P.252) “During initiations, these spirits would devour the young initiates, then spit them out. This swallowing was an important moment in the transformation of young boys into adults.”

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