Man's Necklace (kalabubu)
The Ono Niha are known for two different kinds of necklaces, which are somewhat structurally alike: both types have a largely invisible inner wire core consisting of iron, brass, bronze, or even gold wires. The most well known are the so-called headhunter’s necklaces, kalabubu, typically embellished with pieces of polished coconut shell strung over the wire core. The diameter of these perfectly fitted, disklike pieces gradually increases toward the center, so that the thickest section of the necklace always hangs above the chest of its wearer. The kalabubu typically did not have a clasp, but was made large enough in diameter so that its owner could effortlessly pull it over his head.
The second type of necklace, nifatali-tali, was worn equally by men and women. Wearing these woven necklaces was reserved for members of the noble class, or si’ulu. The thickness and workmanship of the woven wire and the composition of metals in these necklaces reflected a family’s wealth. Nifatali-tali necklaces can be made of iron, bronze, silver, and gold. This kind of necklace has a considerably smaller diameter and therefore a clasp at the narrowest ends. Sometimes this clasp is only a hook, or it may also take the form of a pyramid-shaped button, or a specifically produced concave button with a central breastlike elevation. The Dallas necklace is shaped like a common kalabubu, but it has a clasp like a nifatali-tali. The lustrous gold emphasizes its noble pedigree.
With this one-of-a-kind kalabubu, an inner core made of brass is wound with two interwoven brass wires. Only two small sections of this substructure are exposed next to a round clasp of solid gold. Thirteen thin casings made of wood, which are sheathed in beaten sheet gold, are strung over the core of the necklace. The gold surface is decorated with a densely embossed leaf pattern. Seven of the casings have an embossed surface, into which four to six nearly equal-sized rhombuses are cut. The dark wood of the casings contrasts strikingly with the gold as the raised wooden shapes emerge from these incisions.
Very few such necklaces with wooden and gold casings are represented in collections or found in historical photographs. Even if the kalabubu looks more like a badge of rank (nifatali-tali) from its construction and mode of production, it must nevertheless be viewed as an emblem for a successful headhunter.
In many societies, wearing special jewelry was associated with extensive rules and regulations. Wearing a kalabubu was also subject to such rules of tradition and common law, also known as adat. In the pre-Christian era, a young nobleman of the Ono Niha could acquire the right to wear a kalabubu once he had taken part in a successful headhunting raid. Only then did he become a recognized member of the adult world and only then was he marriageable.
Achim Sibeth, "Man's necklace (kalabubu)," in Eyes of the Ancestors: The Arts of Island Southeast Asia at the Dallas Museum of Art, ed. Reimar Schefold in collaboration with Steven Alpert (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013), 54.