The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Not on view
Tear-drop shaped ornaments made from the iridescent shell of the pearl oyster or, more rarely, other species were worn and exchanged across much of northern, central, and western Australia. The ornaments were manufactured (and generally engraved) in the Kimberley region on the northeast coast, from shells obtained in the Torres Strait, which separates Australia and New Guinea. Prized as ornaments and ceremonial objects, they were exchanged along a vast system of trade routes that extended as far as Australia’s southern coast over a thousand miles away. Known by a variety of local names, including riji, jakuli, and longkalongka, the ornaments were predominantly worn by men as a cache sexe, suspended from a belt of human hair worn around the waist and, in some instances, as pendants. In some areas, they were also worn by women. The ornaments typically were engraved, as here, with rectilinear geometric designs, accented with red ocher. Pearl shell was associated with water, the essence of life, especially in Australia’s arid interior. Its silvery luster embodied the shimmering qualities of water, rain, and lightning.
Collected by D.S. Davidson, Muchison, Mulga Downs, Australia ca. 1930; The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, PA, until 1959; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1959, on permanent loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1959–1978
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 211.
Kjellgren, Eric. How to Read Oceanic Art. How to Read 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014, pp. 72–73.