Statue-mask Vanuatu

Melanesia. Vanuatu. Banks Islands. 19th century. Bark, wicker, pigment. Height: 122 cm. Width: 60 cm. Diameter: 40 cm. Inv. 13 205. Purchased by T. Savès, 1884.

In the north of Vanuatu, masculine societies were extremely hierarchised and were based on a system of ranks paid with pigs to groups of elders, with the aim of acquiring a rank by initiation. This social status was sometimes accompanied in religion by initiation ceremonies, marked by the acquisition of masks representing the spirits of ancestors.

This anthropomorphic effigy, without legs, larger than a mask and without known equivalent, remains a mystery.

It may be a mask linked to a very high rank symbolised by the depiction of the armbands, belt and bead headband. During ceremonies, the "image-headdress" was worn on the head, kept in place by cords attached to the arms of the statue.

Statue-mask Vanuatu (c) mairie de Bordeaux