An image of Timpsonk (cult mask)

Mendi people

(Papua New Guinea  – )

Timpsonk (cult mask)

Other titles:
Ceremonial clown mask, Timsank, Timpsonk, Timbsonk (cult mask)
Not on display
Further information

During the 1950s, the 'timp' cult swept through the Mendi Valley in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, traded from the south through gift-exchange. Ritual knowledge was acquired by cult sponsors in exchange for valuables. The transactions took place over several months and were accompanied by complex and highly secretive ceremonial events.

'Timp' was performed to control malicious 'towmow' (ancestral ghosts believed to bring sickness). The innards and fat from slaughtered pigs were cooked in earth ovens then distributed to cult inductees. Blood was collected and offered to the ghosts. Spells were recited and the pork eaten, after which the bones were gathered and placed in a bundled 'corpse' that mimicked the bound bones of deceased kin. The 'corpse' was then taken from the cult house and paraded before spectators, escorted by men wearing 'timpsonk' masks. Finally, it was buried, as interning the bones weakened the 'towmow'.

[entry from Exhibition Guide for 'Melanesian art: redux', 2018, cat no 39]

Place of origin
Mendi, Southern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea
Cultural origin
Mendi people
mid 20th century
collected 1963
Ceremonial object
woven rattan, earth pigments, gold-lipped oyster shell (Pinctada maxima), bamboo, plant fibre, shells, burr seeds, machine-wove cotton fabric, plant fibre string, animal skin
woven mask 132.0 cm height; 48.0 to 52.0 cm diameter; figure 74.0 x 34.1 cm
Purchased 1977
Accession number
© Mendi people, under the endorsement of the Pacific Islands Museums Association's (PIMA) Code of Ethics