Pair of Solid Brass ‘Aso‘ Pendant Ear Ornaments
Kenyah/Kayan Dayak People, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia
early 20th century
length: 7cm, width: 4.5cm, combined weight: 106g
This pair of man’s brass ear ornaments were used as decorative weights to stretch the ear lobes to exaggerated lengths. (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.)
The form of these ear pendants is based on the
aso, a mythical underworld hybrid dragon-dog female fertility figure. Richter (2000, p. 174) says that such ‘curvilinear vitality’ may be derived in part from dragons or other mythical creatures portrayed in Chinese trade ceramics that were imported into Borneo in vast quantities.
Each of the pair has been made separately, using the lost-wax casting method. Each time an item is cast using this method, the cast must be broken and made from scratch, hence the two are not, indeed, cannot be identical.
Ear ornaments of brass were signs of prestige and beauty. This pair would have been reserved for a more powerful and prestigious wearer.
Related examples are illustrated in Rodgers (1995, p. 279).
The pair is in fine condition. There are no repairs or any other condition issues. They have a light chocolate-brown colouring and have been worn smooth by years of handling.
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.: 3942
This Dayak man wears ear weights, although of a different form to the examples here.