A fine old example of a middle Sepik canoe prow mask, probably 1950s. It has the typical long, narrow face, bulging eyes and round , screaming mouth, designed to intimidate the enemy, and it would also have its own magic powers to protect the crew. This example is finished with (weathered) trade paint and has most of its fibre ear and nose decorations intact. Size: . , Stand included.
In the days when tribal warfare was an everyday event, men from one village would travel to an enemy village by canoe to ambush and attack it. (A large canoe could carry 30 or more warrior/paddlers). The major offensive and defensive weapon was the bow and arrow, except for close fighting when spears and clubs were used. If a hostile canoe was discovered attempting a landing at an enemy village, the paddlers were exposed to a shower of arrows and, to protect themselves, they erected a special canoe prow shield made of painted bark on a wooden frame. A special mask was attached to this shield to magically protect the paddlers and frighten the enemy. These masks usually featured staring eyes and a large, round mouth.
In the days when canoes were attacked, it was common to put an old granny right in the front of the canoe so that she could hold the shield and mask in front of her and support it with her body, since old ladies were considered to be disposable in the tribal pecking order. (Sexist, but apparently true).