Watch and Listen

Mask of a spirit of the forest (kavat)

Have you ever seen the spirit of the mosquito? Here it is!

Mask of a spirit of the forest (kavat)
Late 19th – early 20th century
Papua New Guinea, New Britain Island, Gazelle Peninsula
wicker, tapa, pigments
73 x 90 x 40 cm

Narrated by Dr. Isabelle Tassignon, Curator of the Ethnology Collection

"This mask with hypnotic gaze is part of our tribal art collection from Oceania. It comes from the Baining people, which lives on the Gazelle Peninsula. It was made of very simple materials: tapa (a kind of beaten barkcloth stretched on a bamboo frame), lamp black and betel juice for the black and red colours. Worn on the head like a great helm, it belongs to the category of kavat masks. It represents a spirit of the forest – in this case, the spirit of the mosquito – which, like birds, was supposed to perch in trees. These cumbersome masks were worn by dancers who would jump over a fire during night rituals. The dancer would thus become a supernatural creature which terrified little children…"