Large Pair of Solid Brass Pendant Ear Ornaments
Kenyah/Kayan Dayak People, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia
early 20th century
length: 7.7cm, combined wight: 400g (each weighs 200g)
Remarkably, this pair of ear pendants weighs precisely 200g each (400g overall). Such a weight is also unusually high for these. Each has been cast from solid brass. Ear pendants of this weight allowed male and female Dayak tribes-people to stretch their earlobes to beyond their shoulders. This pair came from Sarawak, on the Malaysian side of the island of Borneo, but Dayak groups in Kalimantan on the Indonesian side also used such ear pendants.
Modern reproductions of this style of ear pendant abound but this pair has the appropriate patina and provenance.
Ear ornaments of brass were signs of prestige and power.
Earrings of this size and weight would have been reserved for a person of great prestige. They would have been used to stretch the ear lobes to a remarkable length. Thereafter, great care was needed to prevent the ear lobe from breaking. Women tended to stretch their ear lobes much more than men: it was considered effeminate for a Dayak man to have lobes stretched beyond the shoulders. Today, the practice of elongating the earlobes has largely died out among the Dayaks.
See Rodgers (1995, p. 280) and Carpenter (2011, p. 155) for related pairs.
The examples here are in excellent condition and have a good ‘feel’ in the hand.
Brinkgreve, F., & D.J. Stuart-Fox (eds), Living with Indonesian Art: The Frits Liefkes Collection, Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde, 2013.
Ethnic Jewellery from Indonesia: Continuity and Evolution, Editions Didier Millet, 2011.
et al, Ethnic Jewellery: From Africa, Asia and Pacific Islands, Pepin Press, 2004.
The Jewelry of Southeast Asia, Thames & Hudson, 2000.
Power and Gold: Jewelry from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, The Barbier-Mueller Museum, Geneva, 3rd ed. 1995.
Acquired in the UK, from the estate collection of Dr George Yuille Caldwell (1924-2016). Dr Caldwell, an English-born physician moved to Singapore in the 1950s, from where he built up a collection of Southeast Asian collectibles.
Inventory no.: 3941
A similar pair on display in Malaysia’s National Textile Museum. (Photographed February 2017).