An intricately carved vintage hair comb ethnic Indonesia Tanimbar region
CONDITION: good vintage condition
SIZE: 6 ins h x 3½ ins w (15 x 9 cm) decorative part 3 ins h (7.5 cm)
Here is a wonderfully decorated hardwood hair comb from Maluku Island, Tanimbar Indonesia. Formerly known as the Spice Islands, the Maluku or Moluccas 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 ornament is carved from dark wood, probably Makassar ebony, and is decorated only on the front facing side. Here we see an interesting depiction of both the representational and anthropomorphic carvings which often appear together in tribal Indonesian art. The lower part of the heading, situated just above the tines, is decorated with a design of waves, indicating the sea.
Placed above these is a representation of a boat like motif. Boat like shapes, usually associated with the arrival of ancestors from the south-east Asiatic continent to the Indonesian archipelago, are of great importance in Indonesian jewellery and ornaments. The curved forms resembling the prows of the ships of the dead believed to carry the souls of the newly deceased to the lands of their ancestors.
The ornament is topped off with a pair of confronting roosters. These probably represent the fighting cocks which are important in Indonesian culture and are descended from practices in Balinese Hinduism. Compare this comb with the rooster hair comb from Batek, Toba shown in the final picture. This is from a plate in Ethnic Jewellery from Indonesia, B W Carpenter. EDM, 2011
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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Carved wooden Tanimbar hair comb ethnic Indonesian hair accessory