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Arts of the South Pacific

The collection of art from the islands of the South Pacific Ocean—including New Zealand and Australia—demonstrates how the presence of the sea has shaped these peoples and their art.

Moluccas Islands
17th-18th century

13 3/8 x 9 x 6 1/2 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Alfred C. Glassell, Jr.

Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, & the Americas

Arts of the South Pacific

This elegant crown, associated with ancestor worship, was made to be worn by a female member of local royalty, on important ritual occasions. Only a few examples of this kind of crown have survived.

The Moluccas Islands are located in eastern Indonesia. The islands' many cultures used gold objects as signs of social status, and to celebrate new family alliances at marriages. Gold adornments, embodying the spirits of ancestors, help guarantee the survival of family lineages. The tree and head on this crown are ancient Indonesian symbols. The face, with hollowed eyes and pointed nose, portrays ancestral features that date back 2,000 years. The Tree of Life, a symbol of family lineage and continuity, springs forth from the ancestor's head. The tree is a depiction of a tribe's lineage, or marga. Higher branches represent older and more important ancestors, or leluhur.