Mask (kepong or ges)

New Ireland
late 19th century
Artist unidentified, Melanesian

Object Place: Papua New Guinea


36 cm (14 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Wood, cane, fiber, pigments

On View

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


Africa and Oceania



Several types of masks are associated with the malagan commemorative ceremonies. Large masks called matua with extravagant projections and superstructures were made for malagan display and appeared at the end of ceremonies to remove taboos. Groups of men wearing smaller, crested types such as this one roamed the village and performed similar tasks, “cleansing” the community and bringing life back to normal. These masks might represent tree-dwelling wild spirits who live in the bush. Flanges linking the ears to the jaw and the eyes to the mouth partially frame this mask’s head. The open mouth reveals white and black teeth, intertwined frigate-bird and serpent forms compose the nose, and sea-snail shells animate the protruding eyes. The ribbed cane structure of the head is visible beneath the remains of vegetable fiber that once fully covered it. Like many New Ireland objects, the mask came to Germany before World War I. It bears the inscription “ME10259, Neu-Mechlenburg, Weber,” Neu-Mecklenburg being German designation of the island. Its life history is one of the topics of the essay “From the South Seas.”


1878, possibly acquired in Neu Mecklenberg (New Ireland), Papua New Guinea by Consul Theodor Weber (b. 1844-d. 1889), Hamburg; 1888, given by Weber to the Museum für Völkerkunde, Leipzig (accession no. ME 10259); 1975, deaccessioned by the Museum für Völkerkunde and exchanged [see note]. May 2, 1977, sold by the Galerie Alain Schoffel, Paris, to William and Bertha Teel, Marblehead, MA; 1991, year-end gift of William and Bertha Teel to the MFA. (Accession Date: January 22, 1992)

NOTE: Many thanks to Dr. Marion Melk-Koch of the Staatliche Ethnographische Sammlungen Sachsen for confirming the provenance of the mask. Also see Christraud Geary, “From the South Seas: Life Histories of Works in the Teel Collection,” in From the South Seas: Oceanic Art from the Teel Collection (Boston: MFA, 2006), 21.

Credit Line

Gift of William E. and Bertha L. Teel