Warrior's headdress ornament: frontal figure (tap lavong kayo)

Kayanic peoples
19th century or earlier
more object details

General Description

Kayanic warriors’ basketry helmets were adorned with finely cast brass ornaments like this one, which were both protective charms and emblems of rank. This bronze ornament was cast but has cold-worked surface detail (the small circles). At its base is a powerful and protective underworld spirit with a heart-shaped face, large riveting eyes, and a protruding tongue. Framing its head are four hand-like appendages that are neither human hands nor animal paws. The curling protrusions emerging from both sides of the object represent a spirit being’s writhing limbs, and the textured midsection on the emblem represents the back of the spirit’s body. The figure at the top controls this powerful beast. He is either a mythical hero or the embodiment of the wearer’s own strength.

Such an emblem would have been worn only by a heroic paramount chief. It projected his ability to communicate with the spirit world in order to channel and utilize its protective power.

Adapted from

  • Roslyn Walker, Label text, 2013.