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    Naga Headhunter’s Trophy Head & Ancestor Necklace

    Naga People, Burma/India
    early 19th century

    circumference: approximately 70cm, width of pendant: 9.7cm, weight: 80g



    UK art market

    This rare Naga trophy head necklace comprises a cast brass pendant of two severed human heads, suspended from a strand of orange-red barrel-shaped glass trade beads. On each side of the heads are ancestor figures shown in semi-seated positions – one with hands on the knees, and the other with hands along the side. This configuration is highly unusual – no similar examples have been published. The wear and patina on the pendant is extraordinary with the details having been worn smooth from handling and the passage of time.

    Necklaces of this type with representations of human heads traditionally were reserved for successful headhunters – those who had taken heads. The heads here have smiling faces. The addition of the ancestor figures is highly unusual. Jacobs (1990. p. 254) illustrates one severed head pendant that has two small human figures crouched on top of the heads.

    The Naga comprise a series of related tribal groups concentrated in the border areas of north-eastern India and eastern Burma. They were attracted to rare goods that could be bartered from outside their region. Beaded necklaces were very popular as a show of finery but also as a portable means of displaying and carrying wealth. The components that went into making necklaces were regarded as currency items themselves. Beads and necklaces were accumulated as heirlooms and were passed as dowries and down through generations.

    The necklace here is stable and wearable. It is a rare, collector’s piece.


    Barbier, J.P., Art of Nagaland: The Barbier-Muller Collection Geneva, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1984.

    Borel, F., The Splendour of Ethnic Jewelry: From the Colette and Jean-Pierre Ghysels Collection, Thames & Hudson, 1994.

    Giehmann, M., Naga Treasures: Tribal Adornment from the Nagas – India and Myanmar, 2001.

    Jacobs, J., The Nagas: Hill Peoples of Northeast India, Thames & Hudson, 1990.

    Panini, A., Middle Eastern and Venetian Glass Beads: Eighth to Twentieth Centuries, Skira, 2007.

    Saul, J.D., The Naga of Burma: Their Festivals, Customs and Way of Life, Orchid Press, 2005.

    Shilu, A., Naga Tribal Adornment: Signatures of Status and Self, The Bead Museum, Washington, 2003.

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