COASTAL SEPIK RIVER, PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Early 20th Century
This powerful old spirit mask is from Turubu area of the East Sepik Province. It represents a mythical bush spirit called Barag who is called upon for help in both male initiation and hunting. Barak masks exist in male and female form.
In the ceremonial house, offerings of magical substances such as coral and tree bark were made to the Barag spirit to spiritually enliven the mask, together with requests for assistance with fishing and hunting. The Barag spirit was believed to be able to reveal game to the hunter while simultaneously concealing it from a competing stranger.
Powerful Barag masks were only danced on rare occasions, including the initiation of young males and at times of scarce game and other village hardship. Each individual mask was known by a unique name and was danced by an initiated male concealed in a plant fiber costume.