India & Himalayas

Primitive mask from the Himalayas

Tamang mask
Tamang mask

Q:  Mask with crude carving, 24.5 x 15 cm, with darkened surface, I do not know what kind of wood. I bought this mask from a man who had bought in Nepal many years ago. I was told this was a Tamang dance mask from Nepal. I would like to have your opinion on its origin, authenticity and age. It would also be very interesting to know more about its symbolic meaning and use.

A:  The Tamang, one of several ethnic groups living in the Himalayan regions of Nepal, practice Tibetan Buddhism and are known to produce primitive looking masks such as this for use in shamanistic rituals. Usually carved out of hardwood, they are stored in the rafters of the dwelling and exposed to smoke and grease. Over the years they can develop a patina that is very rich. This one is missing that patina. Primitive masks are also made for sale to tourists in Katmandu and yours probably falls into that category.  B

One Comment

  • Alain Rouveure

    I just came across this wonderful site about masks. How l missed it all those years…? OK. I just read the above with interest and it is absolutely right, apart from the Shamanist bit that is so often used for such masks. They are usually worn by country folks in what are called “The Middle Hills/Mountains” in Nepal during festivals like harvest, new year when the chasing of bad spirits out of the community are taking place. Your mask is very decorative, very probably made for the tourist market only a few years ago looking at the photograph only, but maybe older. I would have to see, smell (too much smoke is not always a good sign) and feel its weight. The style is definitely taken from old catalogues/ books of collections of Himalayan Primitive masks that have been published over the past few years. Craftsmen in Nepal get their inspiration from such publications and add a bit more to them. I have been traveling and regularly working in Nepal since 1979. I have seen and handled literally thousands of masks and seen similar ones, although never quite the same. It could be unique, but old? Yes it is highly decorative and the craftsman did a great job with the patina. Alain

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