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Asian art

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Rice harvesting knife

19th century-20th century


Unknown Artist


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.


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


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

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


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.

Referenced in 1 publication


Niki van den Heuvel, Ancestral art of the Indonesian archipelago, Sydney, 2017, 38 (colour illus.).