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Asian art

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Amulet or receptacle for gunpowder

19th century-20th century


Unknown Artist


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.


Other Title

Gunpowder container


19th century-20th century

Media category

Arms & armour

Materials used

dugong tooth, wood, shell, beads, natural fibres


45.0 x 4.0 x 3.0 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 Nov 1986-1996, Sydney/New South Wales/Australia, probably purchased in West Timor, Indonesia mid 1980s. Appears in 'Southeast Asian tribal art', an unpublished text by Christopher Wilson, College of Fine Arts, Sydney, November 1986.

Mariann Ford, 1996-2010, 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, 67 (colour illus.).

Christopher Wilson, Southeast Asian Tribal Art, Nov 1986, Plate 32 (colour illus) unpaginated..