Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Helmet Mask (Temes Mbalmbal)

mid-20th century
Vanuatu, Southwest Malakula
Southwest Malakula
Wood, vegetable fiber, pig tusks, glass, metal, paint
H. 26 x W. 15 1/2 x D. 19 in. (66 x 39.4 x 48.3 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
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

Speiser, F. Die Kleinwüchsigen Asiens (Andamanen, Malacca, Philippinen, Wedda) und Beschreibung einzelner Inselgruppen Melanesiens [The Pygmy People of Asia in the Andamans, Malacca, the Philippines and Vedda, as well as a description of some Melanesian Island Groups. Basel, Switzerland, 1930.

Deacon, Bernard, and George Routledge and Sons. Malekula, a Vanishing People in the New Hebrides, edited by Camilla H. Wedgwood. London, 1934.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 40.

Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 160.

Speiser, F. Ethnology of Vanuatu: an early twentieth century study. Bathurst: Crawford House Press, 1991.

Huffman, Kirk W. "Plates and Bowls from Northern and Central Vanuatu." In Arts of Vanuatu, edited by Joël Bonnemaison. Bathurst: Crawford House Publishing, 1996.

Huffman, Kirk W. "Masks, 'Headdresses,' and 'Ritual Hats' in Northern Vanuatu." In Arts of Vanuatu, edited by Joël Bonnemaison. Bathurst: Crawford House Publishing, 1996.

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, no. 111, pp. 188–189.

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