In Focus

Bracelet (komba lola')

This massive gold bracelet is a particularly finely worked example of a Toraja heirloom ornament called komba lola'. Komba means "bracelet"; the name lola' is also applied to larger examples of this type of ornament, made for display at rituals rather than to be worn. In larger lola', the gold is usually layered around a wooden core; these are sometimes referred to as komba dikatik, a name that suggest their association with the highest-ranking Rites of the East, or life-enhancing rituals. In practice, though, they are used at rituals of both the East and the West. Both larger and smaller variants of the lola' are associated with high status, being regarded as a mark of aristocratic rank and a source of pride for the family or house that owns them. On ritual occasions, they may often be seen in association with gold-sheathed keris or daggers (Toraja: gayang), either displayed together or worn by the house descendants. In ritual costumes, both sexes typically wear the keris as a mark of nobility, though komba lola' are worn exclusively by women. There are also silver versions, called ponto lebu, which in some areas may be worn by nobility of the second rank.

For Toraja, the buffalo has always been a supreme measure of wealth, and other things such as land, houses, and tombs have always been valued in buffalo. Lola', too, have traditionally been paid for in this way, each commanding a price of four or five buffalo.

The bracelet is ornamented with delicate rings of repoussé work around the rim and a complex array of radiating spikes or columns projecting from the outer surface, some of which are set with garnets, Burmese rubies, and transparent beads of red and blue glass. Some examples are linked with spirals of fine gold wire, encircling small clusters of granulated gold bosses that seem to float between the stones. A filigree gold chain encircles the spikes on either side. This is a mark of the superior workmanship of the piece, since in lesser examples a colored thread is used in place of such a chain.

The quality of this particular bracelet suggests the possibility of its having been influenced or crafted by Bugis goldsmiths. The Bugis being highly mobile and entrepreneurial, some of their smiths migrated from the lowlands to other parts of Sulawesi, including Palu, Central Sulawesi. They were masters of filigree work, a technique learned from the Minangkabau smiths of West Sumatra. A smaller kind of ornate gold bangle is typical of the work of Bugis smiths. It is somewhat similar in design, having a single ring of projecting bosses around the rim, offset by granular and filigree decorations. The Toraja komba lola' might be seen as a sort of expanded version of this design. Bugis traders and others also settled in parts of Toraja during the last two decades of the 19th century. Whether Bugis jewelers had any part in the manufacture of this example is difficult to say for sure; it is certainly possible that local Toraja goldsmiths have found inspiration in their work.

Adapted from

Roxana Waterson, "Bracelet (komba lola')," 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), 184-185.