A splendid and rare intricately carved bone comb possibly from Maluku Island, Indonesia
CONDITION: good vintage condition
SIZE: 8 ins h x 7 ins w (20 x 18 cm) decorative part 5 ins h (13 cm)
MATERIALS: water buffalo bone (the spongy consistency and small black specks shown on the back view are indicative of the material)
Here is a large and elaborate comb headdress from Tanimbar in the Maluku islands, which are an archipelago in eastern Indonesia.
Reflecting the belief that the head is the seat of the soul, combs and head ornaments are particularly important in Indonesian jewellery. Among tribal societies beliefs associated with the corporal human body and soul were closely tied to the use of body ornamentation and jewellery. Traditional beliefs emphasize the spiritual protection of the person against bad influences, dangerous spirits, diseases and black magic. Such ornaments also convey status and authority within the community.
The comb is intricately carved from a large piece of solid wood. The main feature in the centre of the heading is the female figure whose breast is decorated by a crescent shaped ornament suspended from a bead necklace. The crescent moon is found widely integrated into Indonesian tribal art after the coming of Islam. Tribal depictions of human beings (and spirit beings gods or ancestors who often take human form) are usually stylised rather than naturalistic in such works. Many such forms have larger and more defined heads reflecting the belief that the head is the seat of the soul. Scholars have noted that the visages of most ancestor statues were heart shaped with large round eyes, elongated ear lobes.
Other traditional symbols surround the central figure. Carvings of hornbill birds flank the humanistic form. These creatures evoke the upper world while the lower world is inhabited by sea creatures. These are evoked by carvings which represent waves on the lower and right margin of the heading.
Among Indonesian tribal societies beliefs associated with the corporal human body and soul were closely tied to the use of body ornamentation and jewellery. Traditional beliefs emphasize the spiritual protection of the person against bad influences, dangerous spirits, diseases and black magic.
The ritual and spiritual life of the tribal Indonesian groups was founded on ancestor worship, as well as worship of the different nature spirits. The cycle of daily life was imbued with the belief that all things, both animate and inanimate, possessed a spirit and that these were potential allies or enemies.
The function of bodily ornamentation was never purely material. It communicated not only with humans but also with supernatural powers. In the earthly sphere it involved the communication of status, authority and legitimacy. This latter was directly connected to the power and prestige of the ancestors to families, clans and villages..
Most jewellery was not made for daily wear but for use during ceremonies. They were also closely linked with music and dance and rites of passage in the human cycle such as birth, coming of age, marriage and death. Examples of this can be seen in combs indicating marital status.
As part of the greater tapestry of Indonesian history and culture these ornaments offer valuable insights into a multi faceted land and its peoples.
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Ethnic Indonesian carved bone hair comb possibly Maluku island hair accessory