Pacific Islands Mask
Initiation rites for young men
This is a Yorkshire World Collections object, one of 100 chosen by young people aged 16-24, as part of the London Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World.
This face mask is from the Pacific Islands, probably New Ireland. It is made of carved wood, painted, with a large crested headdress of trade clothes, coconut fibre, bark and string. It was used for ceremonies performed by clans that were memorial rites for the dead and initiation rites for young men.
This is one of the objects collected by adventurer, traveller, scholar, philanthropist, soldier, collector and environmentalist Major Percy Marlborough Stewart. He was described as an extraordinary man: born in 1871, a second cousin to Winston Churchill and one of 14 children, Major Stewart is reported to have said to his wife: 'We're terribly dull people, let's travel around the world and then we shall have something to talk about'.
So in this spirit of adventure Stewart, most often with his wife, but sometimes on his own, made no less than eight round-the-world voyages between 1906 and 1926. He had a curiosity about the world and its peoples and as a record of his travels he brought back a unique collection of artefacts many of which are recognised by UNESCO as of national and international importance.
- What do you think 'memorial' and 'initiation' rites were about?
- Why do you think these materials were used to make the mask?
- What do you think 'trade clothes' were?
- Why do you think the headdress is crested?
- Can you think of another example of historical head-gear that has a crest?
- Can you see from the map below where New Ireland is in the Pacific Islands?
- What is its nearest very large country?
- Can you do some research to find out how many small islands there are in the Pacific Islands? Is the number closest to 1,000, 5,000, or 25,000?
- What would you need to be able to have been 'adventurer' in the time of Major Stewart?
- Who are today's 'adventurers'?
Compare another Pacific Island resource on My Learning.