Eharo (dance masks) are one of three types of masks made by the Western Elema people of the Papuan Gulf. They are made and worn as part of the Hevehe, a grand cycle of ceremonies that dominated the ceremonial and artistic life of the Elema people during the early twentieth century. The cycle was both an initiation of men into the mysteries of the Hevehe itself and a way of making peace with the dangerous spirits of the forest and sea.
The Hevehe cycleEach Hevehe cycle lasted for ten to fifteen years and began with the building of a new eravo (men's house). Then, in the secrecy of the eravo, fantastical hevehe masks up to six metres tall were created. Every stage of the mask construction was celebrated with feasting and gifts. Finally the masks were brought out of the eravo for a month of masquerade, before being burned and the spirits symbolically destroyed. Eharo were made and worn on two occasions during the Hevehe: when the door for the eravo was finished and later as the Hevehe drew to a close. They represent the light hearted and comical side of these ceremonies.
DetailsThere are no taboos or restrictions on the making or wearing of eharo. This example consists of a cane framework covered with barkcloth and painted with red, black, and white pigment. Originally a thick fringe of fibre would have hung down from the base of the mask and covered the shoulders and upper torso of the wearer. Many masks were topped with a creature that had spiritual significance, such as an insect, bird, fish, tree, or even a mushroom or jellyfish. Others were improvised and purely fanciful.
AcquisitionThis mask is part of a small but significant collection that was purchased in 1914 from S G MacDonell, a trader in Orokolo, Papua New Guinea.