Asmat-people, Irian Jaya, New Guinea, Indonesia, 20th century, private collection from Netherlands.
The Asmat are a coastal people occupying a low-lying swampy region in Indonesian province of Irian Jaya. Their homeland covers approximately 25,000 square kilometers in southwestern Irian Jaya. The swampy region include sago palms, mangroves, and patches of tropical rain forest. Asmat people are widely known for the quality of their wood sculptures, and they are also notorious for their traditional practises of headhunting and cannibalism, which were linked to the unsolved disappearance of Michael Rockefeller, 23-years old son of former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, in 1961 while touring the region to collect indigenous artwork.
The skulls of honoured and important ancestors were used as headrests or pillows so that the living could remain connected to the dead. Christian missionaries began to persuading the Asmat to cease headhunting (and the traditions as using ancestor skulls as headrests) in 1950's. The use of ancestral skulls as headrests and pillows was sought to be replaced by large shells.
This gorgeous large shell headrest has amazing deep dark patina. Age-related wear and signs of use and handling over many years. Dust and dirt. This gorgeous item comes from the collections of a closed ethnographic museum/ foundation in the Netherlands. Size approx. 25cm x 15cm.