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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.

Sumba Island
Pendant with Cockatoos
c. 19th century

3 7/8 x 3 5/8 x 5/8 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

Ear ornaments were "bride price" in the complex process of marriage exchange in Sumba. They were also used for communicating with ancestors. Considered empowered, they were kept hidden from sight except during special ceremonies. This example is exceptional for its size and quality of craftsmanship. The cockatoos are elaborate miniature sculptures with moving parts.

Sumba is one of the southern islands of Indonesia. Traditionally, island leaders commissioned gold ornaments to honor ancestors, create family treasuries, and demonstrate their wealth and status in ceremonies. Gold was believed to have life force and the power to cause both good and evil. Duality is the central concept of cultural beliefs in Sumba. This work of art is composed of female and male elements: The shape symbolizes female fertility; the cockatoos, the male element.