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Malagan refers to both the memorial ceremonies carried out after burial and mourning as well as the masks, figures and posts made for use in these ceremonies.

In New Ireland, the body of the deceased is generally buried. However, in some areas it is cremated while in the past it was buried at sea. A specific mourning period follows the funeral. In the past, the mourners were painted black and were not able to eat certain foods or carry out certain activities. Malagan ceremonies are carried out after this mourning period and complete the funerary rites.

Art and life in northern New Ireland are inexorably linked to the Malagan ceremonies. Preparations for these post-mourning ceremonies are carried out after the funeral but the actual ceremonies may not take place for one to five years after a person's death. Malagan ceremonies are a means by which whole communities can express their reverence for the deceased. It is not a time of grief but a festival for honouring the dead.

Malagan carvings are owned by particular clans and are made for ceremonies by specially commissioned carvers. For the final Malagan ceremony, a range of figures, masks, posts and boards are carved. Some of these are worn during dances while some are placed in a specially constructed Malagan enclosure. The masks and body adornments worn for these ceremonies can represent someone deceased or the spirits of the dead.