Hornbill ear ornaments are very rare, probably due to their fragility. This honey-color pair is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. It is carved from two single pieces of hornbill casque or beak. Each would have been worn in a man’s extended earlobe either singularly or in pairs. The hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil) is a large forest bird known for its enormous orange-red beak and casque and dark blue feathers. It was regarded with enormous symbolic importance among the Dayak s who traditionally viewed the hornbill as a representation of the upper-world god. The wearing of hornbill feathers and carved casques during ceremonies conveyed the high status, power and prestige of the wearer (mostly men).
Each ear ornament takes the shape of a coil that is decorated on both sides with tendril-like aso motifs. The aso is a mythical underworld hybrid dragon-dog female fertility figure. The dragon imagery in Dayak art may be derived in part from dragons or other mythical creatures portrayed in Chinese art since ancient times (click next image).
A smaller and less complicated version of the current ear ornament is illustrated in Brinkgreve & Stuart-Fox (2013, p. 232) in which it is erroneously described as being made of brass. A less elaborate pair is illustrated in Rodgers (1995, p. 280). The pair shown here has a golden patina consistent with use and significant age.
Brinkgreve, F., & D.J. Stuart-Fox (eds), Living with Indonesian Art: The Frits Liefkes Collection, Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde, 2013.
Richter, A., The Jewelry of Southeast Asia, Thames & Hudson, 2000.
Rodgers, S., Power and Gold: Jewelry from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, The Barbier-Mueller Museum, Geneva, 3rd ed. 1995.