Mouth mask probably depicting the head of a rooster

DATE:
19th century
MATERIAL AND TECHNIQUE:
Wood, boar tusks, clam shell, mother-of-pearl, buffalo horn, resinous material, and pigment
CLASSIFICATION:
Costume
DIMENSIONS:
Overall: 5 1/2 x 6 3/8 x 5 3/4 in. (13.97 x 16.19 x 14.6 cm)
DEPARTMENT:
Arts of the Pacific Islands
LOCATION:
Arts of the Pacific Islands - Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, Level 3
CREDIT LINE:
Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.
COPYRIGHT:
Image courtesy Dallas Museum of Art
OBJECT NUMBER:
1997.141.McD

General Description

On the island of Leti, ritual dances featured a small sculpture representing the head of an animal. The dancer held the masklike object in his mouth by the tab extending from the back of the head. Only three examples are known to have survived, two masks in European museum collections, which represent pigs, and this mask, which depicts a bird, perhaps a pigeon or rooster.

The mouth masks are associated with a distinctive fertility ritual called porka, the goals of which were increase and abundance among human beings, animals, and plants as well as the renewal of creation. In its original form, the ritual cycle began with a headhunting raid and accorded sexual freedom to unmarried people during certain phases. Formerly celebrated at seven-year intervals and times of disaster, the porka ritual survived, with changes, during the 20th century as a New Year’s celebration. It is thought that the last complete ritual was performed between 1850 and 1860.

Adapted from

Carol Robbins, Label text, All the World's a Stage: Celebrating Performance in the Visual Arts, 2009.