This fine, small wooden box with a sliding lid, is from the Paiwan people of Taiwan. It has been carved on the lid with two human head motifs. It has been painted red and has the most splendid patina.
The Paiwan people are the indigenous people of Taiwan island. They inhabited the mountainous areas of southern Taiwan and are linked more culturally and ancestrally to the indigenous peoples of Southeast Asia such as those in the nearby Philippines and Indonesia than to those of China. Headhunting was a traditional practice.
The human head is an important motif in Paiwan culture. It is believed that the motif alludes to ancestors and might well allude to headhunting as well.
Carved wooden Paiwan items with similar motifs are illustrated in Capistrano-Baker (1994, p. 146).
The box here is in fine condition, has a lustrous patina, and obvious age.
Capistrano-Baker, F.H., Art of Island Southeast Asia: The Fred and Rita Richman Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994.
Chen, C.L., Woodcarving of the Paiwan Group of Taiwan, National Taiwan University, 1978.