Headdress ornament with a human face

DATE:
19th century or earlier
MATERIAL AND TECHNIQUE:
Gold
CLASSIFICATION:
Costume
DIMENSIONS:
Overall: 11 1/2 x 6 1/4 x 1 1/2 in. (29.21 x 15.88 x 3.81 cm)
DEPARTMENT:
Arts of the Pacific Islands
LOCATION:
Arts of the Pacific Islands - Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, Level 3
CREDIT LINE:
Dallas Museum of Art, gift of The Nasher Foundation in honor of Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher
COPYRIGHT:
Image courtesy Dallas Museum of Art.
OBJECT NUMBER:
2008.67

General Description

Noblewomen were distinguished by the decoration and length of their sarong (skirt) and their adornments. Among the most imposing of the latter were golden headdresses, like this one, with bold spirals and gently tapering leaves of a majestic plant or tree rising above a mysterious heart-shaped face. The exact meaning of patterns on this intriguing object is no longer known, but it is possible to interpret them using other Moluccan objects, such as carved statues depicting the first female ancestor (luli).

The patterns on this headdress ornament may relate to the luli figures with their dominant motifs: a boat and a tree, both symbols of fertility. On the central stake of the ornament is a relief decoration made up of a symmetrically constructed tree that has roots in a boat with prows that curve strongly inward. On either side of the tree, “shoots” appear to grow from the human head, which is the basis of the headdress, integrating the human face with the tree motif. This combination suggests that the face on this headdress may represent a founding mother. The noblewoman who once wore this ornament was probably the eldest descendant of the founding mother of a descent group.

Excerpt from

Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, 2013.