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Rice harvesting knife

19th century-20th century


Unknown Artist

  • Details

    Other Title
    Rice cutter
    Place where the work was made
    Central Borneo Borneo Indonesia
    19th century-20th century
    Media categories
    Metalwork , Sculpture
    Materials used
    deerhorn, steel
    27.0 x 5.5 x 4.0 cm
    Christopher Worrall Wilson Bequest 2010
    Not on display
    Accession number

    Reproduction requests

  • About

    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.

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 1 exhibition

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

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 1 publication

  • Provenance

    Christopher Wilson, pre 1989-1996, Sydney/New South Wales/Australia, purchased in Indonesia.

    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.