Helmet mask (kakaparaga)

Witu Island
late 19th century
Artist Unidentified, Pacific Islander

Object Place: Papua New Guinea


53.34 x 33.0 x 30.5 cm (21 x 13 x 12 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Wood, pigment

On View

Arts of Asia, Oceania, and Africa Gallery (Gallery 177)


Africa and Oceania



Art forms of southern New Britain and offshore islands have affinities to those of New Guinea’s Huon Gulf and the Tami Islands due to extensive trading networks. On the Witu Islands to the north-west of New Britain, artists make masks from a variety of materials, such as bark cloth, fibers, cane, feathers, and leaves. Three types have been identified, among them this kakaparaga form. It is the only type of helmet mask in the region carved entirely from wood, although it resembles wooden masks called nausung made by the Kilenge on New Britain. The lone protrusions on this cylindrical helmet are the notched ridges of the bulbous head-piece, the long pierced nose, and the pendant ears. Triangular areas of turquoise enhance the shape of the nose and eyes, and only paint indicates the mouth; alternating bands of red, turquoise, and white pigment surround the face. The back of the head bears a slightly raised relief of an animal, perhaps a crocodile. Early European observers referred to the kakaparaga and other mask types on the Witu Islands as death masks, indicating that they may have been used in funerary rites. For more on this mask, see the essay “From the South Seas.”


Between 1893 and 1895, collected in Papua New Guinea by Richard Parkinson (b. 1844 - d. 1909); 1897, sold by Parkinson to the Königlich Zoologisches, Anthropologisch-Ethnographisches Museum, later the Museum für Völkerkunde, Dresden (inventory no. 12116); 1974, exchanged by the Museum für Völkerkunde with Everett Rassiga (dealer; b. 1922 - d. 2003), Bern; sold by Rassiga to Walter Randel (dealer), New York. John Friede, San Francisco; sold by Friede to Wayne Heathcote (dealer), New York; July 20, 1982, sold by Wayne Heathcote to William and Bertha Teel, Marblehead, MA; 1991, year-end gift of William and Bertha Teel to the MFA. (Accession Date: January 22, 1992)

Credit Line

Gift of William E. and Bertha L. Teel