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Spirit Costume (jiwawoka), ca. 1990-2000

Spirit Costume (jiwawoka), ca. 1990-2000

Rattan and sago leaf fronds with ochre painted wood accents attached at the eyes 60 in. x 48 in. x 48 in. (152.4 cm x 121.92 cm x 121.92 cm)

Crocker Art Museum, Loet Vanderveen Collection


  • This mask is a full masquerade costume consisting of a conical head with tufts of sago palm leaf strands and a full skirt with sleeves and waistband made from split rattan. It was created for ceremonial purposes, used once, discarded, and then sold in the art market. Similar costumes are used for the festival Jipae, which honors the recently deceased and also cleanses malevolent spirits from the village. The jiwawoka appears during the construction of a je ti feast practiced by an Asmat cultural group, the Emari Ducur. Village elders hold a je ti feast, which may last many months, in response to social tensions or disruptive spirits. Ethnographers Gunter and Ursula Konrad explain that the form of the feast addresses many concerns, including the need to initiate children into adulthood. Such topics and dramas are acted out in ritual so that they may be addressed in a practical manner.1
    The jiwawoka mask first appears to open the je ti feast cycles. Men weave the costume, its torso, sleeves, and mask in secret, apart from women and children, and fashion the wooden eye plates. At dusk, on the first night of the feast, drumbeats and chants call for jiwawoka to appear in the village, where its wearer performs a masquerade. The jiwawoka reappears throughout the feast’s duration, especially to monitor the progress and soundness of the feast house’s construction. Later, other spirit costumes called doroe (personifications of deceased family members) engage in jealous competition with jiwawoka. At its last appearance, jiwawoka is symbolically killed by the doroe. Following this portion of the masquerade, the costume is thrown out. They are not reused. For the feast’s participants, this final masquerade is a symbolic resolution of conflict meant to confirm the belief that different categories of spirits do not get along with one another.

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