, Ceremonial pendant and clan heirloom [masa] Enlarge 1 /2
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Tanimbar Islands, South Moluccas, Indonesia

Ceremonial pendant and clan heirloom [masa] 19th century Materials & Technique: sculptures, ceremonial objects, gold alloy, cinnabar, beaten metal, repoussé
Dimensions: 7.0 h x 7.8 w x 1.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1988
Accession No: NGA 88.367

In Tanimbar, gold pendants play an important role in demonstrating status and power alliances. Gifts made from gold are traditionally exchanged to establish connections between great houses and aristocratic lineages, and were deliberately flaunted by competing nobles during ceremonial gatherings to negotiate partnerships. Like the great houses themselves, important gold heirlooms (masa) have their own names and histories and are considered relics of the ancestors. The hollow cheeks and long pointed nose on this mask or face are features shared with many ancestral Indonesian figurative sculptures, as is its elaborate boat or buffalo-horn shaped headdress.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

Throughout the more remote islands of the Indonesian archipelago, clan treasures and royal heirlooms are created from gold. For the Sumbanese people, gold mamuli, used as ornate ear, neck and head cloth adornments, are sacred regalia exchanged during marriage ceremonies and worn for other significant rituals. Human figures, animals and plants often rest on the base of mamuli. The omega shape of this ornament represents the female principle and the body of the bride, while the two warrior figures wielding spears and shields indicate the wealth and power of the men. The symbolism speaks of fertility, protection and concepts of complementarity.

In Tanimbar, gold pendants play an important role in demonstrating status and power alliances. Gifts made from gold are traditionally exchanged to establish connections between great houses and aristocratic lineages, and were deliberately flaunted by competing nobles during ceremonial gatherings to negotiate partnerships. Like the great houses themselves, important gold heirlooms (masa) have their own names and histories and are considered relics of the ancestors. The hollow cheeks and long pointed nose of this mask or face are features shared with many ancestral Indonesian figurative sculptures, as is its boat or buffalo horn shaped headdress.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014