Ornament (Sipattal)

Isneg artist

Not on view

Sipattal are prestige adornments worn by the Isneg people of the mountainous Cordillera region of Luzon, northern Philippines. Worn by men, women and sometimes children, sipattal are usually reserved for ceremonial occasions.

Sipattal are composed of two primary elements: the sipatar, or beaded choker, that is worn around the neck and the bissin, tiered pendants of bilobed mother-of-pearl that hang across the chest. When worn on the body, sipattal appeal to multiple senses; the luminous mother-of-pearl capturing the light to create a shimmering effect, while the tasseled elements chime together in constant motion.

The material elements of sipattal speak to the adornment’s high status, as each individual component is comprised of materials with inherent exchange value. Glass trade beads are precious across the region and were worn as part of necklaces, earrings, arm bands, and headdresses, as well being used to adorn and embellish textiles. For communities living in the mountains, shell was a rare and precious material reserved for the wealthy. The chambered nautilus shell used to make the pendants and tassels of this bissin would have been sourced from the Pacific coast of Luzon and traded to the Isneg living in the interior. The silver beads that are threaded throughout this piece are thought to have originated in India and were also highly valued. This example has the addition of some novel elements in the tasseled edges that include a dog’s tooth and metal thimble. While sipattal are made and worn only by Isneg people, elements of their design are found in other types of adornments from Luzon. The bilobed shell lozenges are known as bawisak, and are also seen in ear adornments worn by Kalinga and Gaddang people from the mountains to the south.

Sipattal are highly treasured and are held within families, handed down from generation to generation. Several examples in museum collections show evidence of historical repairs where tassels and bawisak have been added in – materials that are not consistent with their original manufacture, suggesting a sustained use over a long period of time. Sipattal could also be included as part of the payment of tadug – bride wealth given by the groom’s family to that of the bride to compensate for the loss of her contribution to the family.

Ornament (Sipattal), Isneg artist, Shell, glass, copper alloy, silver alloy, horn, fiber, Isneg

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