Mask (rom)

Ambrym Island
19th–20th century

Object Place: Ambrym Island, Vanuatu


60.96 cm (24 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Wood, rattan, fiber, and pigment

Not On View


Africa and Oceania, Contemporary Art



A variety of ritual objects and materials have been associated with the grade-taking societies of the Ambrym and Malakula islands: fern-tree images, hardwood figures and drums, stone carvings, and fragile constructs of vegetal fibers. Triangular-shaped vertical headdresses such as this one appear at dance performances on Ambrym to this day. Members of the men’s grade societies purchased the rights to commission this type of headdress and its costume, as well as the license to perform with it during rituals, from their neighbors on Malakula at the beginning of the twentieth century. This mask was constructed over a light cane frame. Wood strips shape the arched brows and the serrated jawline and outline the tall forehead above the curved nose. The vivid greens and reds applied to alternate sides of the forehead and facial areas may have special significance. Raffia defines the short beard and long strands of hair, and feathers originally crowned the top. Old masks of this type are quite rare in collections, because they are extremely fragile and often were ritually destroyed after the performances.


Museum für Völkerkunde, Dresden (?) [see note]. September 28, 1984, sold by Wayne Heathcote (dealer), New York and Paddington, N. S. W., Australia to William and Bertha Teel, Marblehead, MA; 1996, partial gift of William and Bertha Teel to the MFA; 2014, acquired fully with the bequest of William Teel to the MFA. (Accession Dates: December 18, 1996 and February 26, 2014)

NOTE: According to the dealer at the time of the Teels' purchase. The Museum für Völkerkunde has not yet been able to verify this information.

Credit Line

Gift of William E. and Bertha L. Teel