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20th C. PNG Abelam Karawut - Mouth Mask

Oceania, Papua New Guinea, North Maprik District, Abelam people, ca. first half of the 20th century CE. An abstract woven anthropomorphic effigy ornament, said to be worn by chiefs both during war and during dances - they are only for men and only for wear when in full ceremonial dress and face paint. Called a karawut (also karahut or kara'ut), it is a type of body adornment that is in a rough human body shape which is two dimensional aside from the alongated nose. The shape, made of knotted bush string dyed red, blue, and yellow, is outlined by a border of nasa shell beads, which are very small fresh water snail shells that have been ground into their current shape. Similar examples often have attached features dangling from them, and this one may have also once had those. This example has boar tusks adorning the midsection and head of the figure. Custom wooden display stand included. Size: 4.5" W x 15.5" H (11.4 cm x 39.4 cm); 18" H (45.7 cm) on included custom stand.

The name karawut is quite literal, roughly translating to a hand-knotted twine object with boar tusks. When tribes in this region still engaged in warfare with their neighbors, these were worn by gripping them between the teeth in war, so that the enemy saw not a human, but a fierce creature armed with boar's teeth. It is important to note that among the peoples of Oceania, these objects are not just religiously symbolic themselves - the materials they are made of are also religiously symbolic, as well as the practices that artists in those communities go through to create them. This is why so much art from this area uses a wide variety of locally-available materials. The Abelam people, who live in the Maprik District, a densely rain-forested, hilly region, led agricultural lifestyles centered around growing yams and highly ritualized warfare with their neighbors. Beyond its cultural significance, this is a beautiful and striking piece of art, immediately recognizable as being from this little-visited part of the world.

Condition: Surface wear commensurate with age, minor loosening to tusks on head, fading to some areas of pigmentation, and some loosening to weaving and nasa shells, otherwise intact and very good. Light earthen deposits throughout. Old inventory sticker on back of one tusk.

Provenance: ex-collection of the late Peter Arnovick, San Francisco, California, USA

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