Amulets and adornments comprising valuable materials such as precious metal, beads, split cowrie shells and ivory, like this gunpowder receptacle, were highly prized by Timorese warriors and headhunters. These accoutrements were stored along with weapons and clothing of meo warriors within a clan’s sacred cult house. Prior to battles and headhunting raids, the objects were imbued with protective blessings before being distributed to the warriors. Attached to a small waist bag, this container may have allowed the warrior a single but advantageous shot with a musket. Firearms are believed to have been introduced to Timor from the mid-1600s by the Topasses, Portuguese who had intermarried with native inhabitants on the neighbouring islands of Solor and Eastern Flores. The Topasses established powerful alliances with local groups on Timor in exchange for diverting the sandalwood trade to the island’s northern coast, and by the mid 1700s they controlled much of Central Timor.
Place where the work was made
19th century-20th century
dugong tooth, wood, shell, beads, natural fibres
45.0 x 4.0 x 3.0 cm
Christopher Worrall Wilson Bequest 2010
Shown in 1 exhibition
Glorious, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 27 May 2017–06 Jan 2019