Date: 19th–early 20th century

Geography: Republic of Timor-Leste

Culture: Probably Timor-Leste (East Timor)

Medium: Wood, fiber, paint, lime, and hair

Dimensions: H. 9 x W. 5 11/16 in. (22.9 x 14.4 cm)

Classification: Wood-Sculpture

Credit Line: Purchase, Discovery Communications Inc. Gift and Rogers Fund, 2000

Accession Number: 2000.444


The island of Timor gave rise to a distinctive tradition (or traditions) of dance masks whose precise origins and significance remain uncertain. What information exists suggests that many of the masks originated in Timor-Leste (East Timor). Portraying both male and female ancestors, they were worn by men during dances and other ceremonies, including celebrations of victory in war.

When in use, the masks were typically painted, adorned with strips of hide or bristles representing facial hair, and worn with a headdress or hood that covered the head to further conceal the dancer's identity. The present mask has no eye holes and the wearer would have looked out through the mouth. The holes on the upper lip and forehead likely served for the attachment of a mustache and eyebrows. Some masks were made from perishable materials, but wood examples, such as this highly polished and deeply patinated work, were evidently preserved and reused many times.