Mask Dance

Marsha Berman
Netherlands, Papua New Guinea 1995 | 170 Min. | BetaSP, OmeU

In early 1989 the Big Men of Birap Vil­lage decid­ed to hold a »Sins­ing Tum­buan« or Mask Dance cer­e­mo­ny at the begin­ning of the dry season of the fol­low­ing year, to end the mourn­ing for three deceased vil­lage elders. The Sings­ing took place in May 1990. This video doc­u­men­tary (three parts in all) por­trays the prepa­ra­tion and per­for­mance of the dance cer­e­mo­ny, illus­trat­ing how such cer­e­monies as the Mask Dance bind the com­mu­ni­ty togeth­er in mutual coop­er­a­tion and inter­de­pen­dence, bridge gender and gen­er­a­tion gaps, and add ‘spice’ to a basi­cal­ly ardu­ous and rou­tine existence. 

This film was made at the request of the chief of the Mask dance cer­e­mo­ny. It was realised with the active par­tic­i­pa­tion of the com­mu­ni­ty. The 170 min. ver­sion is the cul­tur­al his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ment of the cer­e­mo­ny in its entire­ty. It con­tains mate­r­i­al regard­ed as ‘cul­tur­al­ly sen­si­tive’ in Melane­sian cul­tures. It is the wish of the chief of the Mask Dance cer­e­mo­ny that this ver­sion be made avail­able to people of other coun­tries who wish to acquire a true under­stand­ing of his cul­ture. (There is a short­er 50 min. TV-ver­sion which excludes cer­tain sacred and secret ele­ments for a larger audience.)