The cultivation of rice using swidden agriculture (in which areas of land are cleared by burning) provides a staple diet for many communities living in the densely forested regions of Borneo. An essential source of life, the rice crop is believed to be imbued with its own soul, one which requires careful protection from natural and spiritual pests. All phases of the rice life cycle are therefore accompanied by ceremony and taboo to ensure fertility and an abundant harvest. Small curved blades with ornately decorated handles were most likely used for rituals marking the beginning of the rice harvest. The elaborate design of this harvesting knife features a network of intertwined creatures and human figures. At the top of the handle, a female figure appears to be giving birth to a smaller figure, a strong reference to fertility and abundance. Below them, creatures of the fertile underworld, including reptiles and the guardian dragon–dog (‘aso’), are depicted alongside the rhinoceros hornbill, a sacred messenger of the ancestors and gods who dwell in the upper world.
19th century-20th century
27.0 x 5.5 x 4.0 cm
Christopher Worrall Wilson Bequest 2010
Shown in 1 exhibition
Glorious, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 27 May 2017–06 Jan 2019
Referenced in 1 publication
Ancestral art of the Indonesian archipelago, Sydney, 2017, 38 (colour illus.).