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Asian art

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Sword with scabbard (moso or rugi)

late 19th century


Unknown Artist


Situated in the easternmost Lesser Sunda Islands, the Alor archipelago is neighboured by the islands of Lembata to the west, and Timor to the south. This sword is of a style found on a number of islands in the region, including Timor, Roti and Savu. While the physical characteristics of such weapons are distinctive, little is known about the meaning of the imagery depicted. Carved from buffalo horn and wood, the finely decorated hilt and scabbard of the Alor sword appear to depict the head and tail of a composite creature incorporating birdlike and serpentine features. In addition to conveying notions of virility and strength, the combination of upper and lower world creatures most likely provided supernatural protection against the dangers of hunting and warfare. The strong profile of the hilt is embellished with delicate scrollwork and would have once been encompassed with a full mane of hair tufts, most likely from a sacrificial creature.



late 19th century

Media category

Arms & armour

Materials used

buffalo horn, horsehair, iron, wood and rattan, with traces of lime


84.5 x 8.5 x 3.5 cm :

a - sword, 69.5 x 24.5 x 3.3 cm

b - scabbard, 69 x 11 x 3.5 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, 1985-1996, Sydney/New South Wales/Australia, purchased on Alor, 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 2 publications


Niki van den Heuvel, Ancestral art of the Indonesian archipelago, Sydney, 2017, 66 (colour illus.).

Christopher Wilson, Southeast Asian Tribal Art, Nov 1986, Plate 29 (colour illus.) unpaginated..