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Brass torques or necklaces like this example were cast in one piece and were worn by Naga warriors as prestige items. It is believed that such torques were worn not only by warriors who could afford them but also by those who had taken heads, and were commissioned specifically from plains brass casters to commemorate their head-taking prowess.
The example here has been cast with thickened ends and has eleven protuberances, two of which were in the form of human heads. The torque has incredible wear from handling and age. It is now barely possible to discern the details of the heads. The fact that two heads are shown suggests that the owner had the torque made to commemorate two trophy heads taken in a raid by the owner (Untracht (1997, p. 64).)
The wear on this piece is important. It has made the torque particularly attractive and decorative – almost as if it is melted chocolate. But importantly, there are reproductions of such toques and it is clear from the wear on this example just how genuine it is. Not only that, and given that such pieces might have been heirloom pieces, it is entirely possible that it dates to the 18th century.
Related examples are illustrated in Barbier (1984, p. 38), Untracht (1997, p. 64) and Jacobs (1990, p. 259).
This is a splendid piece given its patina and wear.
Barbier, J.P., Art of Nagaland: The Barbier-Muller Collection Geneva, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1984.
Jacobs, J., The Nagas: Hill Peoples of Northeast India, Thames & Hudson, 1990.
Shilu, A., Naga Tribal Adornment: Signatures of Status and Self, The Bead Museum, Washington, 2003.
Untracht, O., Traditional Jewelry of India, Thames & Hudson, 1997.