- Early 20th century
- MATERIAL AND TECHNIQUE:
- Wood, paint, opercula, shell, fiber
- 18 × 8 × 13 in. (45.72 × 20.32 × 33.02 cm)
- Arts of the Pacific Islands
- Not On View
- CREDIT LINE:
- Dallas Museum of Art, The Roberta Coke Camp Fund
- OBJECT NUMBER:
The term tatanua designates both the helmet mask with a thick crest of orange plant fiber and the dance during which it is worn. Both the mask and the dance are associated with the elaborate funerary festivals called malagan. Preparation for tatanua dance involves a number of prohibitions, including sexual abstinence, in order to avoid misfortune. A successful performance proves the ability of men to interact with the supernatural power embodied by the tatanua masks.
The crest of tatanua masks imitates a local ceremonial hairstyle for men, which once required shaving the head except for a central ridge of hair. On the mask, the bare areas on either side of the crest support a decorative accumulation of materials such as plaid trade cloth and plaster, which often form a spiral design. The two sides of the mask are generally different, a feature that increases the drama of the performance as the line of dancers, moving in unison, first turns one side, then the other, to the audience. The openwork carving on the face of the mask and the use of the pigmented valves of sea-snails as eyes are characteristic features of malagan objects.
Although today dancers wear palm-frond skirts and shirts, in the past dancers may have been nude or combined body paint with a leaf skirt. Once inside the mask, the dancer must remain absolutely silent, for the utterance of any sound could bring death to himself or a member of his clan. Music for the dance consists of songs sung by a male chorus, accompanied by a bamboo slit gong.
- Label text.
Google Arts & Culture
See and read about another example of a tatanua mask at the British Museum.
The Met, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
Learn more about the island of New Ireland.
Read about the climate, people, culture, and history of Papua New Guinea.
Learn more about the region of Oceania.
National Museums Scotland
Explore resources about arts of the Oceania region of the Pacific.