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Asian art

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Warrior's headcloth (ilaf)

early 20th century


Unknown Artist


Among the Atoni of Timor, the actions of warriors and headhunters were subject to a ritualised cult of warfare governed by ‘le’u musu’, a sacred force essential to success in battle and the spiritual welfare of the entire community. Strict taboos, divination ceremonies and talismanic blessings were all believed to render warriors invulnerable to their enemies. Infused with ‘le’u musu’ prior to battle, a warrior’s regalia of fine textiles, adornments and weapons expressed the wearer’s courage and glory. It also represented male and female duality.Although tapestry-woven headcloths (‘ilaf’ ) and elaborate pronged headdresses were the prerogative of initiated warriors (‘meo’), these items and other garments were also worn ceremonially by women upon the death of their father, and following childbirth. Woven with protective motifs, the ‘ilaf’ was worn wrapped around the head with the fringes framing the face, its striking colour denoting courage and victory.


Other Titles

Pilu Salif, Meo regalia (headhunter’s apron)

Head ornament (ilaf) for a ritual leader (meo)

Cultural origin



early 20th century

Materials used

cotton, natural dyes, glass beads, seeds; tapestry weave, twining, supplementary weft wrapping


72.5 x 27.0 x 0.3 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


Nomadic Rug Traders, pre 2004, Sydney/New South Wales/Australia, purchased in Bali, Indonesia.

Mariann Ford, 2004-Dec 2010, Sydney/New South Wales/Australia, purchased from Nomadic Rug Traders (art dealership). 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, 57 (colour illus.).