The Anir Islands, Spirits, Masks and Performances in Southern New Ireland

Antje S. Denner

The cultures of New Ireland in Papua New Guinea’s Bismarck Archipelago are well known for elaborate ceremonies. These form parts of commemorative ritual cycles extending over many years. In the northern half of the province, malagan, intricate multicoloured wooden carvings, famous among Western scholars and collectors since the nineteenth century, are produced as part of mortuary rituals. Although equally fascinating, the arts of the southern regions have attracted far less attention. They are primarily comprised of performative forms of aesthetic expression, including men’s house songs, dozens of different dances applying delicate ornaments, and masks made from plant materials. Many but not all of these art forms are linked to secret societies; up to the present day they remain under-researched and little understood. This book examines religious beliefs, forms of art and ritual practices of the people of the Anir islands in the remote south of New Ireland, and thus contributes to closing this research gap. The study investigates Anirian concepts of cosmic relations and spirit beings, which provide the background to, and constitute the basis of, rituals, mask production, dances and other performances. All these components form part of an integral system of thought. Their relations and interdependencies are explained and their mode of action, their efficacy as well as their meaning are analysed, thus yielding insight into the dynamic ways in which art is conceptualized and operates in Anir culture and ritual.

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