The Torres Straits lie between the continent of Australia and Papua New Guinea. Torres Strait Islanders have cultural connections across the Strait with neighbours north and south.

Dance and music are important in the lives of Torres Strait Islanders. In the nineteenth century, masks were made of turtle shell with elaborate decoration using wood, metal, shell and feathers.

The front part of this mask represents a crocodile’s head. The teeth are made from metal saw blades and the eyes are shell with cuscus fur as eyebrows. The mask is surmounted with a human face made of turtle shell also above which cassowary feathers are attached. Two small wooden dugong charms are attached, at each side.
Two wooden sticks carved with crocodile heads are fixed to either side of the mask and project from the back, each decorated with goa seed cases.

This mask was collected through an exchange between Maino, a Torres Strait Islander leader, and A.C. Haddon, a British anthropologist in 1888/89.

The British Museum acknowledges contemporary cultural perspectives associated with the objects in its collection. Please note: cultural rights may apply to this object.

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  • Title: Dance mask
  • Date Created: 1889
  • Registration number: Oc,89+.73
  • Image copyright: © The Trustees of the British Museum
  • British Museum website: British Museum collection online