Malagan (or Malangan)

The Island of New Ireland, east of New Guinea in the Bismark Archipelago, is covered by tropical rainforest and grassy plateaus. On the northern part of the island, rites for the dead consist of a funeral accompanied by a period of mourning, the nature of which varies according to tradition, and the subsequent memorial festival called malagan. Depending on the financial resources of the family, the malagan occurs several months or even years after death, for the sponsoring clan must be able to provide enormous amounts of the starchy root of the taro plant and some 50 pigs to feed the numerous guests. In addition, the organizers must arrange for the carving of the figures, horizontal friezes, vertical poles, and masks whose ritual display concludes the festival. Although the function of the malagan is primarily religious, to commemorate the deceased and to aid the soul in moving from the world of the living to that of the dead, it is also central to the social, economic, and artistic life of the community. The term malagan is also used for the sculptures and masks that appear in the festival.

Adapted from

  • DMA Label text.

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