Skip Navigation

Headdress (Nalowan Nambatin avi)

Arts of the Pacific Islands

Throughout northern Vanuatu, men mark important stages of life and gain higher levels of political power by progressing through the ranks of initiation and grade societies. Advancement through each grade requires gifting valuables, sacrificing pigs, sponsoring feasts, demonstrating leadership, and mastering guarded knowledge. These ceremonies are consequently a platform for immense artistic creativity.

On southern Malakula and Tomman Island, life-cycle ceremonies are known collectively as nalowan and involve as many as a hundred different types of headdresses. This headdress type, called nalowan nambatin avi, is used during circumcision ceremonies. The four faces represent the mythical woman Nevimbumbao and her children.
CULTURE Tomman Islander
MEDIUM Tree fern, vegetal-fiber paste, tusks, pigment
DATES mid 20th century
DIMENSIONS 30 × 32 11/16 × 30 11/16 in. (76.2 × 83 × 78 cm) [measurements include fiber]  (show scale)
CREDIT LINE Gift of Mr. and Mrs. N. Richard Miller
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION A grade headdress of tree fiber with tusks and paint. The headdress in conical form, decorated with low-relief representations of four faces, tusks attached, emerging from corners of mouths in pair on each face. Four rods of plant fiber emerge from the foreheads, with painted base and fiber tassels and plant stems projecting from each, beyond the mask which is measured without them. The forehead and jaw line of each face is black with white dots. The faces are divided red and white sides and blue outlines. The top of the mask has red and blue zones in white outline. The rods have various colors.
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Tomman Islander. Headdress (Nalowan Nambatin avi), mid 20th century. Tree fern, vegetal-fiber paste, tusks, pigment, 30 × 32 11/16 × 30 11/16 in. (76.2 × 83 × 78 cm) [measurements include fiber]. Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. N. Richard Miller, 74.215.4. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: , 74.215.4_threequarter_PS9.jpg)
IMAGE 74.215.4_threequarter_PS9.jpg., 2019
"CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
You may download and use Brooklyn Museum images of this three-dimensional work in accordance with a Creative Commons license. Fair use, as understood under the United States Copyright Act, may also apply. Please include caption information from this page and credit the Brooklyn Museum. If you need a high resolution file, please fill out our online application form (charges apply). For further information about copyright, we recommend resources at the United States Library of Congress, Cornell University, Copyright and Cultural Institutions: Guidelines for U.S. Libraries, Archives, and Museums, and Copyright Watch. For more information about the Museum's rights project, including how rights types are assigned, please see our blog posts on copyright. If you have any information regarding this work and rights to it, please contact
Not every record you will find here is complete. More information is available for some works than for others, and some entries have been updated more recently. Records are frequently reviewed and revised, and we welcome any additional information you might have.