An image of Rice harvesting knife

Unknown Artist

Rice harvesting knife

Other titles:
Rice cutter
Not on display
Further information

The cultivation of rice using swidden agriculture (in which areas of land are cleared by burning) provides a staple diet for many communities living in the densely forested regions of Borneo. An essential source of life, the rice crop is believed to be imbued with its own soul, one which requires careful protection from natural and spiritual pests. All phases of the rice life cycle are therefore accompanied by ceremony and taboo to ensure fertility and an abundant harvest. Small curved blades with ornately decorated handles were most likely used for rituals marking the beginning of the rice harvest. The elaborate design of this harvesting knife features a network of intertwined creatures and human figures. At the top of the handle, a female figure appears to be giving birth to a smaller figure, a strong reference to fertility and abundance. Below them, creatures of the fertile underworld, including reptiles and the guardian dragon–dog (‘aso’), are depicted alongside the rhinoceros hornbill, a sacred messenger of the ancestors and gods who dwell in the upper world.

Place of origin
Central Borneo, Borneo, Indonesia
19th century-20th century
Metalwork, Sculpture
deerhorn, steel
27.0 x 5.5 x 4.0 cm
Christopher Worrall Wilson Bequest 2010
Accession number
Christopher Wilson, pre 1989-1996, Sydney/New South Wales/Australia, purchased in Indonesia.
Mariann Ford, 1996-Dec 2010, Sydney/New South Wales/Australia, inherited from the estate of Christopher Wilson. Gift to the Art Gallery of New South Wales as part of the Christopher Worrall Wilson Bequest 2010.