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Rare Malay Carved Horn Fire Striker (Gobek Api) with Lint Nut Containers & Tweezers

Malay People, Malay Peninsula, Malaysia
19th century

length of fire striker: 10.6cm



UK art market

This is a rare example of a Malay fire striker known as a gobek api. It is made of finely carved and turned horn – it has been turned with the precision of a chess piece. It is attached to a pair of brass tweezers by means of local twine, and two hollow nuts used to store lint.

The fires striker is of 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 fire striker is accompanied by two nuts (buah keluak). The buah keluak (Pangium edule) tree is indigenous to Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. The seeds are used in traditional Malay cooking after having undergone a process that traditionally involved underground fermentation, soaking and cooking to leach the seeds of toxicity. The seeds were then added to curries with the contents having an unusual ground-chocolate consistency. The seeds here have been hollowed and have small apertures and now serve as small pouches to hold the combustible lint. The tweezers allow the lint to be pulled out of each seed.

This is the first time that we have seen a striker accompanied by nut-lint boxes and tweezers. No such set has been published to our knowledge. The set is in excellent condition and each element has superb patina.


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

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