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Sulka dance information from Peter Hallinan and Paul Anis
Kilalum Village, East New Britain Province, PNG

purpose | materials | story

Purpose of the singsing

In 1989, Paul Anis of Kilalum Village, East New Britain, performed this Sulka feast for the occasion of his grandson's circumcision (initiation), his daughter's nose piercing (initiation) and his son's wedding (bride price).


The people inform us that the plant material is broken and the pith squeezed out like tooth paste. They said that the paints were made from various pollens that their ancestors used. It took some time to collect sufficient amounts. The application was made with soft fibrous roots sharpened to a point.

On more than one occasion, on unplanned visits to the mask construction area, it was observed that there were various coloured pollens spread out and laying in separate leaves as if it were an artists' working area. It was assumed that this was their source of paint. It could however be possible that there was a mix of two paints.

A Sulka "Tornado" Story

by Paul Anis, Kilalum village, August 1989

I want to tell a story about these masks because in our customs we make them exactly like these. Long ago, in the darkness, our big men would make tornados with them. This is what the mask is like.

They (ancestors) would get a man's bone, a python snake, a sea snake and another kind of snake...these snakes are bad, they always fight...and they put them (snakes) together with the man's bone and cook them and then mix them (the ashes) with lime. Then they got ginger and put it in them. And over it (the mixture of ashes) they would perform a magical spell which conjured up the tornado.

They put it (by blowing the ashes out of their palm in the direction of the ocean) in the ocean. They would send it out and cut it loose in the midst of the bay like the one down by Sumsum, or like the one down by Painkaur or like the one down by Malvek...the big bays.

They would want to kill a person of a certain clan who happened to be out in his canoe. So the leader who cast the magical spell would unleash it where the man normally went in his canoe and the sky would get darker and darker covering the entire ocean.

[Sulka susu gitvung cone-shaped pith mask painted with bright pink pollen, a cassowary feather top knot and a striped snake emerging from behind the mask through its mouth: 11k]

And these snakes (masks) would stay in that darkness. These men (masks) were like this...their heads were men and their tails were snakes.

The leader imitates them because they (ancestors) would cast magical spells on them and mix their ashes into one. And they are like this...they always want to strike canoes.

Figure 1: Sulka susu gitvung mask with snake emerging from its mouth. The body of the striped snake coils up behind the mask. Photo courtesy of a private collection.

And their tails would go and go and go and catch hold of the ocean. And a big wind, darkness and a big rain would come up. And his tail with which he turned the ocean would be like a boat's propeller because he would turn the ocean and a big hole (whirlpool) would result. Then it would pull in the canoe and whatever else in order to feed the hole in the ocean.

Then this snake (referring to one mask) would be in the hole. He's the one who eats everything up all right. His strength is very big. Like if they put it in a certain bay then it would strike the entire village completely and even another one too. Like if they put it up over there by Malvek then it would completely kill us here in Kilalum. And that snake that lives in the darkness always arrives and uproots trees, coconut trees and houses carrying them away in the air.

So for these masks, their names are Tornado because they are the spirit of the tornado. We make them following our big men's customs long ago.

Translator's note: I have tried to keep as much Sulka cultural and grammatical structures in the story as possible while at the same time trying to make it should somewhat fluent in English.


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More articles/photos of NEW GUINEA MASKS:

Middle Sepik River | Angoram | Kambaramba | Tambanum | Hunstein | Imbando and Taway | Mumeri | Blackwater River | Lower Ramu River | Middle Ramu River | basket yam masks | wooden yam masks | Baining | Sulka | Tolai dukduk | Malagan | Papuan Gulf | Gogodala | String and Things | Skin as Ground... | more INDONESIAN MASKS: Bali and Java | Dyak

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Melanesian art TOC | Map of art areas of Melanesia
Papua New Guinea: Highlands: body art - Bundi tapa - jewelry/dancers | Karawari and Blackwater Rivers: masks - carvings - map | Massim: artifacts- Trobriand Kula - map | Kula canoe | New Britain: Baining - Sulka - Tolai dukduk | New Ireland: Malagan | Ramu River: masks - carvings - map | Sepik River: masks - carvings - villages - map | Papuan Gulf: masks - carvings - map - Gogodala - Kukukuku
other areas: Asmat | Solomon Islands: crafts - jewelry - map
art and craft:
barkcloth (tapa) | body art | cane and fiber figures | canoes and prows | jewelry/dancers | masks - Middle Sepik | phallocrypts | pottery - Chambri | shields | story boards | suspension hooks | weapons | yam masks - fiber | yam masks - wood

Indonesian art TOC | Dyak baby carriers and masks | furniture | Java folk art | Lombok baskets | Lombok lontar boxes | masks from Bali and Java | puppets

China: Bai textiles/art TOC | baby carriers | baby hats | woodblock prints

Collecting New Guinea art in the field since 1964.

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Artifacts on this site were collected in the field by my husband, Ron Perry. I take the photographs, do the html, text and maps. Background in Who We Are. Art-Pacific has been on the WWW since 1996. We hope you enjoy our New Guinea tribal art and Indonesian folk art as much as we do. by Carolyn Leigh is licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0