Sara Cromwell

Yam Mask

The population of Papua New Guinea is one of the most diverse in the world.  There are more than 800 languages spoken, and many small communities have developed unique customs and traditions.  This yam mask comes from the Saragum #2 village in the Maprik area of the East Sepik Province.  In this area of the country, the cultivation of long yams, which can grow to a length of 12 feet, is a core element of ceremonial life.  These yams have a purely ritual purpose and are not meant to be eaten.  Following the harvest, an extravagant ceremony takes place during which each man exchanges the yams he has grown with those of a permanent partner.  The man who is able to repeatedly offer yams longer than those that he receives gains great social status.  For the exchange ceremony, the yams are outfitted as men in full ritual costume including masks like this one.  The masks are designed specifically for the yams and are not worn by people.  Constructed of woven plant fiber, similar to a basket, the masks are colored with clay pigments.  This mask is in form known as beak style, in which the human face is represented with a long nose similar to the beak of a bird.

Museum to Close for the Month of August

Thanks to the generosity of the University administration and the MOA Friends, the Museum will undertake two renovation projects this August, resulting in the temporary closure of the galleries from July 31 to September 4.  The first project is a complete remodel of the front desk area of the Museum.  The existing built-in furniture will be replaced with a new front desk and student work space that will have a smaller footprint and result in more flexible use space.  The entire Museum will also be re-carpeted as part of this project.  Secondly, during this time, the permanent exhibit space that currently houses How Do They Know? The Science of Archaeology in the Yadkin River Valley will be renovated.  The exhibit will taken down and the gallery will be modified to prepare it for the installation of a new permanent exhibit covering the four fields of anthropology in North Carolina.  The Museum staff will be working regular hours during this time period and can be contacted by phone or email.


MOA to Participate in Blue Star Museums for Fifth Year

The Museum of Anthropology is pleased to announce the fifth year of its participation in Blue Star Museums, a collaboration among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense, and more than 2,000 museums across America offering free admission to the nation’s active duty military personnel and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day 2017.  The program provides families an opportunity to enjoy the nation’s cultural heritage and learn more about their new communities after a military move.  The complete list of participating museums is available at

Although the MOA will continue to offer free admission to all visitors, the staff is excited to be able to participate in this program honoring our military personnel and thanking them for their service and sacrifice.

“The Blue Star Museums program is a great opportunity for the NEA to team up with local museums in every state in the nation to support our service members and their families,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “It means a lot to offer these families access to high-quality, budget-friendly opportunities to spend time together.”

“Whether they want to blast off at a science museum, take a walk through nature, or encounter animals at the aquarium, Blue Star Museums will help service members and their families create memories this summer,” said Blue Star Families Chief Executive Officer Kathy Roth-Douquet. “This fantastic collaboration with the NEA brings our local military and civilian communities together, and offers families fun and enriching activities in their home towns. We are thrilled with the continued growth of the program and the unparalleled opportunities it offers.”


MOA Welcomes Collections Manager Stormy Harrell

At the beginning of April, Stormy Harrell joined the Museum of Anthropology staff as the collections manager.  Stormy has a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Alaska, a M.A. in Mesolithic Archaeology from the University of York (UK), and a Post Graduate Diploma in Museum Studies from Newcastle University (UK).  She came to Wake Forest from the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee, Florida, where she held the positions of museum curator and assistant registrar.  At the MOA, Stormy now manages the nearly 30,000 objects in the collections, almost 8,000 archival pieces, and the Museum’s research library.  She is responsible for access to the collection, both in person and online, as well as donations, research, and preservation.  Stormy will also collaborate with other staff members on exhibit curation and installation.  Additionally, she will supervise interns interested in collections management.  After several years without a collections manager, the MOA staff is excited about the opportunities available for increased use of the collections with Stormy as a member of the organization.  The Museum’s collection is available to view online here.


Initiation Mask

This mask comes from the Yaka people, who live in southwestern Congo in central Africa.  Initiation and circumcision are mandatory rituals for all Yaka young men, and are organized in remote locations by the secret societies ngoni and yiwilla.  After receiving education in adult responsibilities and sexual behavior, the initiates return to their villages for festivities.  This type of mask, which resembles a bird, is used in such celebrations.  The masks are carved by the initiates and their teachers specifically for that event and are used only once.  This mask is currently on display in Professor Deacon’s Cultural Cabinet.


Bontoc Axe

This early-20th century axe comes from the Bontoc people of the Philippines.  The Bontoc live in the highlands of Luzon, the largest and most populous Philippine island.  In the past, the Bontoc practiced headhunting, beheading their enemies during warfare and claiming the severed heads as trophies.  Typically, a warrior would attempt to spear his opponent to deliver a mortal blow, but before he died, would decapitate the wounded man using an axe like this one.  The trophy head was then brought back to the village where it was smoked, washed, and ritually activated to bring good fortune to the village.  Sometimes, the lower jaw was removed to be used as a handle for ceremonial gongs.  This axe is currently on exhibit in the student-curated mini-exhibit Warfare and Violent Conflict, in which you can learn more about traditions linked to headhunting.