Date: late 19th–early 20th century

Geography: Papua New Guinea, Bougainville or Nissan Island, Bougainville province, Nissan or Bougainville Island

Culture: Bougainville or Nissan Island

Medium: Barkcloth, paint, wood, bamboo

Dimensions: H. 29 1/4 x W. 21 1/2 x D. 25 in. (74.3 x 54.6 x 63.5 cm)

Classification: Bark-Sculpture

Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1967

Accession Number: 1978.412.1518


Masks are rare in the Solomon Islands and were only regularly made in the northwestern portion of the archipelago on the islands of Nissan, Buka, and Bougainville. This example is probably from Nissan, where masks were worn by men at harvest festivals and during secret ceremonies, held in forest clearings. Similar masks were used on Buka and Bougainville during the initiatory rites of men's secret societies. Worn by initiated men, the masks portrayed kokorra, a powerful spirit, and were used to frighten young male novices during the intiation rites, which took place over several weeks. The fearsome expression of this mask, with its staring eyes and bared teeth, suggests that it was used for this purpose. When in use, it was likely crowned by a wig of human hair and worn with a rough, shirtlike tunic of barkcloth, which further concealed the wearer's identity, adding to the illusion that a spirit, rather than a man, was present at the ceremony.