5196

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Rare Malay Carved Horn & Wood Fire Strikers (Gobek Api)

Malay People, Malay Peninsula, Malaysia
late 19th century

lengths: 8.5cm-12.6cm

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Provenance

collected by Alwyn Sidney Haynes (1878-1963), and thence by descent. Haynes was a colonial administrator in Malaya and the Straits Settlements between 1901 and 1934. He held many posts including Acting British Resident, Pahang (1924); British Resident, Perak (1925); British Advisor, Kedah (1925); British Advisor, Kelantan (1930); and Acting Colonial Administrator, Straits Settlements (1933), after which he retired and returned to England, and lived near Stratford-upon-Avon, and then in Leamington Spa. Haynes loaned some of the items he collected in Malaya to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford in 1939. He was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1950.

Each of these rare Malay fire strikers known as a gobek api  is made of carved and turned horn (the darker examples) and wood (the lighter example). Each has a stupa-type shape and comprises two parts – a chamber and a pumping spindle with a handle.

Wealthy Malay men would carry such a device with them to light their cheroot of rolled tobacco in a leaf (rokok daun). The gobek api ingeniously functioned as something like a vacuum pump with the fire being obtained via air compression. Friction from vigorous pumping action would light the thin wad of cotton wound around the tip of the spindle and this would then be used to light the cheroot.

Related examples are illustrated in Noor & Khoo (2003, p. 105).

The four here are in fine condition and each has superb patina.

References

Noor, F. & E. Khoo, Spirit of Wood: The Art of Malay Woodcarving, Periplus, 2003.

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