Cassowary Bone Dagger
Sepik River, New Guinea
circa 19th century
Daggers such as this example are found across the Sepik region of New Guinea. They were important tools used in hunting, warfare and for some initiation ceremonies. The legends and stories of the people of the area portray the cassowary bird as a powerful figure. The dagger is made from the bone of the cassowary and is engraved with protective motifs that empower the tool.
Such daggers are light but strong: tribesmen were able to wear them through arm bands worn on the upper arm.
The top of this dagger has been drilled with two holes through which twine could be threaded so that the dagger might be suspended.
A similar example in the National Museum of Indonesia, Jakarta, is illustrated in Miksic (2007, p. 23). Related examples are in Gordon (2011, p. 157).
Gordon, M., Ancient Echoes: The Mark Gordon Collection of Southeast Asian Indigenous Art, Talisman, 2011.
Icons of Art: The Collections of the National Museum of Indonesia, BAB Publishing, 2007.
Inventory no.: 1464