This dramatic helmet mask comes from southern Malakula Island in Vanuatu (formerly the New Hebrides) east of Australia. Many Vanuatu peoples have complex men's secret societies, which involve a series of ritual "grades" through which individuals pass, by means of initiation rites, festivals, and pig sacrifices, in order to achieve increasing religious and social status. The two most prominent grade societies in southern Malakula are Nimangki and Nalawan. Grade rituals in each of these societies involve the creation of brightly painted figures and masks depicting powerful spirits and other supernatural beings. This mask represents the female cannibal giant Nevinbumbaan, whose son, Ambat Malondr, sits on her shoulders. Nevinbumbaan is credited with the creation of the men's Nimangki society; this mask is made and worn at various stages in the ceremonial cycle.
[Everett Rassiga, New York, until 1965]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1965, on permanent loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1965–1978
Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 40.
Kjellgren, Eric. Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, 111, 188-9.