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Object: Mask

This image has Some Rights Reserved. Creative Commons BY-NC-ND Creative Commons BY-NC-ND copyright licence

Title Mask
Production Unknown, circa 1870, Torres Strait
Medium summary Turtle shell, sennit, candle nuts, shells, feathers, pigment
Materials turtle shell, feather, candlenut oil
Classification ceremonial objects, masks
Credit line Gift of the Marquess of Normanby, 1875
Registration number FE000530

Masks, often made predominantly of turtle shell, were a feature of Torres Strait Islander culture. This example is unusual, if not unique, in its incorporation of a European-style, broad-brimmed hat. It is one of several important examples in Te Papa's collections that show early and striking Pacific adaptations of European hat styles.

The mask was given to the Colonial Museum (Te Papa's distant predecessor) in 1875 by George Augustus Constantine Phipps, Second Marquess of Normanby. He was Governor of Queensland, Australia, from 1871 to 1874 and presumably acquired, or was presented with, the mask during that time. He served as Governor of New Zealand from 1874 to 1878, during which he gave his small collection of Australian and New Guinea artefacts to the Museum. The mask is a superb example of the small but important group of Pacific objects given to the Colonial Museum by British administrators.

Unanswered questions
Nothing is known about how this mask was used or whether in fact it was made especially for presentation to a visiting British dignitary. The early 1870s were a time of rapid change in the Torres Straits Islands as contacts with Europeans greatly increased and the Islanders began to accept Christianity.

Related information

Disclaimer: This information was created from historic documentation, and may not necessarily reflect the best available knowledge about the item. Some collection images are created for identification purposes only and may not be of reproduction quality. Some images are not available due to copyright restrictions. If you have information or questions about objects in the collection, contact us using our enquiry form. You can also find out more about Collections Online.