Q: The family member who gifted this was unsure if he bought it in PNG or perhaps Australia. Even if just a tourist item, I would love to know any information you could share, country, are they masks or shields, did the snake and waterfowl represent anything? Robert, 1807
A: We don’t often see masks like this any more. It has been made by a tribesman in a remote part of the Sepic River area of Papua New Guinea. I can tell it is one of his first masks for trading with white men. His choice of colors, designs and workmanship are a little off. Also, he did not attempt to artificially age it.
There are still uncontacted tribes living in West Papua New Guinea, but most by now have been discovered. This was usually of a negative nature, so it is now illegal for journalists and other organizations to make contact. There is no dedicated government agency for the protection of these tribes, and it is unclear how the no contact laws are being enforced. Human rights organizations including Survival International have argued that there is a need to raise awareness of the existence of uncontacted tribes, for example, to prevent the development of infrastructure near their lands.
Other parts of the world (especially the Amazon) still have some uncontacted tribes, but their isolation won’t last for long. They begin to modernize and eventually move to the cities where their tribal heritage is usually lost. That is why I posted this mask.