Masks such as these were traditionally connected to the important men’s societies in the Sepik River area of New Guinea. Many of the masks represent either mythological or ancestral spirits who are believed to aid in warfare. The red painted pigments often symbolize warfare, and the cowrie shells, once used as money, represent wealth. Turtle shell masks were generally used for display in either individual dwelllings or in the men’s ceremonial house. They were believed to bring good luck before a hunting expedition or raid by attracting helpful spirits. Today, many (probably including this one) are made largely for tourists.
This one was a gift from friend who travelled to New Guinea. She was doing a lot of traveling as the concert pianist on a cruise ship, so gave it to us on what has become very long-term loan. She knew we would appreciate it.