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Asian art

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Headdress for a warrior (meo)

19th century-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.This pronged headdress would have been worn to the side or front of the head, the precious beads, metal discs and coins displayed prominently to dazzle enemies and demonstrate the wearer’s success, status and wealth. The combination of avian imagery emerging from a crescent-shaped form may refer, respectively, to the upper world and its winged messengers,and the moon and buffalo, both of which are associated with fertility.


Other Titles

Comb in form of bird with stand

Comb in form of bird

Comb/headress in form of bird

Cultural origin



19th century-20th century

Media category


Materials used

wood, beads, Dutch East Indies coins


6.5 x 14.0 x 8.0 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


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, 58-59 (colour illus.).