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Asian art

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Woman's ear ornaments (padung-padung)

late 19th century-early 20th century


Unknown Artist


The Batak people of North Sumatra inhabit the mountainous interior region centring round Lake Toba. The lake and Samosir Island on the lake are at the heart of Batak activities and culture. Aside from the Toba group, the Batak identify themselves as belonging to five other distinct communities. The Pakpak Batak live west of the lake, the Karo are north-west and the Simalungun are east of the lake. The Angkola and Mandailing Batak who do not share their borders with the lake are further south and in closer proximity to the Indian Ocean. Whilst the Batak have long maintained trading links with coastal communities, especially along the Strait of Malacca,their relative isolation meant that they did not experience direct contact with Europeans until the mid 19th century when they were introduced to Christianity by Dutch missionaries. Whilst most Batak villagers converted to the new monotheistic religion they never entirely abandoned their pre-Christian animist cosmologies and as a result some interesting and syncretic religious practises were established.

The jewellery of the numerous Batak groups of north Sumatra form an integral part of the ritual items used in traditional marriage negotiations
and to indicate complex kinship patterns and marital status. These large ear ornaments known as ‘padung-padung’ are a distinctive element of Karo
Batak adornment. The stylised spiral forms – a ubiquitous motif in the art and jewellery of the region, with strong associations of fertility and continuity – are embellished with delicate filigree bands and small pendants embossed with five pointed stars, reflecting the Karo Batak fusion of local styles with neighbouring Achenese, Malay and Minangkabau cultural influences. Although worn by women of all ages and marital status at large festivities, ‘padung-padung’ are typically associated with married females, who wore them on a daily basis in place of other adornments. When worn in pairs, one ornament was positioned with the spirals hanging down
towards the face with the other pointing in the opposite direction. The heavy earrings would have been inserted into stretched earlobes and attached to a women’s headcloth to support the ornament’s weight.

In some cases the form of the earring was completed whilst attached to the ear and the ornament was only removed after death. More elaborate renditions including a sliding clasp as found on this example were rarer but gave the wearer options for removing the earring. The chain tassels which would hang vertically make this a more decorative and unusual example of the ‘padung padung’ ear ornament.


Other Titles


pair of earings

Pair of woman's ear and cloth ornaments (padung-padung)

Place where the work was made

North Sumatra Indonesia

Cultural origin

Karo Batak


late 19th century-early 20th century

Media category


Materials used

silver: filigree


a - earring, 13.5 x 7.3 x 0.5 cm

b - earring, 13.5 x 7.3 x 0.5 cm


Christopher Worrall Wilson Bequest 2010


Not on display

Accession number


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

  • Glorious, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 27 May 2017–06 Jan 2019


Christopher Wilson, pre Nov 1986-1996, Sydney/New South Wales/Australia, probably purchased on Samosir, Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia mid 1970s or late 1980s. Appears in 'Southeast Asian tribal art', an unpublished text by Christopher Wilson, College of Fine Arts, Sydney, November 1986.

Mariann Ford, 1996-Dec 2010, Sydney/New South Wales/Australia, inherited from the estate of Christopher Wilson. Gift to the Art Gallery of New South Wales as part of the Christopher Worrall Wilson Bequest 2010.

Referenced in 2 publications


Niki van den Heuvel, Ancestral art of the Indonesian archipelago, Sydney, 2017, 77 (colour illus.).

Christopher Wilson, Southeast Asian Tribal Art, Nov 1986, Plate 27 (colour illus.) unpaginated..