Gamu Zamiyakal

Masks, Headdresses and Dance Machines

22 Apr –
18 Jun 2023

Gamu Zamiyakal, in the Kala Kawaw Ya language dialect from Top Western Torres Strait means ornaments/objects worn on the body during dance performances and rituals, including headdresses, masks and dance machines.

Works in the exhibition are from the Gallery’s Collection by renowned Torres Strait Islander artists, including Allson Edrick Tabuai, Alick Tipoti, Dr Ken Thaiday Snr and Obery Sambo. Their works are made using traditional practices and designs that often incorporate contemporary materials. Styles, techniques and materials vary from island to island and are specific to different clan groups.

A Dhoeri (or Dari) is a headdress. It can only be made and worn by men, and is used extensively in dances, rituals and other celebrations including weddings and story-telling performances.

Mask making is based on traditional customs and rituals from before the Coming of the Light (Christianity) in 1871. Masks are still made today, and act as a visual connection between the living and spirit realms during ceremony, and to bring good fortune, protection and abundance.

Masks were often made from Hawksbill Turtle shells, a precious and much sought-after commodity. Mawa (wooden masks) were primarily made in the western Islands and are carved with decorative designs inlaid with pearls and cowrie shell, and adorned with feathers, hairs and other natural materials.

Allson Edrick Tabuai’s Wene-Wenel/Gauguau Mawa (very powerful witchdoctor’s mask) 2001 is a spectacular wooden mask based on traditional designs worn by a Mabaig — a man chosen to be a witchdoctor in times of war. The central carved wooden sagaia (white heron feather) sways with the dancer, while the eyes, nose and tongue are embellished to instil fear.


Toby Cedar
Allson Edrick Tabuai
Dr Ken Thaiday Snr
Alick Tipoti
Obery Sambo






Selected Works



This exhibition is a Cairns Art Gallery Collection exhibition. 


1. Allson Edrick TABUAI
Born Saibai, Torres Strait, Queensland 1933
Wene-wenel Gaugau Mawa  1998
wood, lawyer cane, cassowary feathers, horse hair, paint, cloth, fibre cord and resin
184 x 90 x 25 cm
Commissioned by Cairns Regional Gallery, 1998

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