Size matters… at least when it comes to yams, the edible tubers grown by the Abelam people in Paupa New Guinea, where they can grow to be several meters long. Among the Abelam, the cultivating and displaying of yams is of great importance to a man’s status in society. Through big yam ceremonial festivals, the men will put their yams on display, decorating them with feathers, different colours, and masks such as this. This is in order to call the ancestor spirits, Nggwalndu, to help people and to oversee the exchange of yams. This process of merging agricultural techniques, social interactions, and cosmological knowledge is not far off from any farmers’ market, or giant vegetable competition in Europe. But we might ask: how does one make artefacts beautiful and powerful enough to act simultaneously as symbols, valuables, and images? Maybe this mask is the material answer to that question?
The mask was collected in 1955 by Bojsen-Møller in the Abelam village Wosera.