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Image Murray Island mask

TLF ID R2039

This is a mask of a triangular, bearded face wearing a European-style hat. It measures 37.4 cm x 35.5 cm x 43 cm and is made of turtle shell, sennit (plaited coconut fibre), shells and feathers. The face has inlaid pearl-shell eyes (one is missing), slits underneath the eyes and a slit mouth. The long, hooked nose is made from a separate piece and attached, as is the beard, which is painted red with a stain from the candlenut tree. Feathers and shells are attached to the edge. A wooden strut behind the mask provides strength. It was made in about 1870 on Murray Island, Torres Strait, Australia.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset suggests that people from Murray Island may have been seeking to replicate a European 'look' - the hat is made in a European style, the features of the mask appear quite European and the red beard could have been an imitation of facial hair worn by Europeans they had encountered.
  • It indicates that people from Murray Island used local or indigenous materials to create a mask with a European style.
  • It is evidence that objects like this were collected and sold by Europeans as objects of curiosity for private collections - this one came to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa's predecessor from a 1875 bequest by the Marquess of Normanby, who was the Governor of Queensland from 1871 to 1874.
  • It shows that people from Murray Island intended this mask to be worn - the slits under the eyes are located so that someone wearing it can see through them; it is not known why the mask was made or how it was used by the Murray Island people, although it is possible that it was worn on the occasion of the Marquess's visit.

Other details

  • Content provider
  • Copyright holder
  • Organisation: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Publisher
  • Date of contribution: 28 Aug 2013
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL:
Access profile
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
  • Hearing independence
Learning resource type
  • Image
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Operating systems
  • MacOS - minimum version: 10.6
  • MS-Windows - minimum version: XP - maximum version: 7
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements