Indonesian Dance Shield (Salawaku)

Indonesian Dance Shield (Salawaku), 19th century
Seram Island, Maluku Islands, Indonesia
Wood, shell & pigment; 27 x 4 1/2 x 3 1/2 in.

85.24.5
Gift of Dwight V. Strong The Maluku Islands (Moluccas) lie west of the large island of New Guinea. The people, who live on the hundreds of scatters of islands belonging to Indonesia, were once considered Melanesian in culture with traditions closer to the people of New Guinea. As early as the 17th century Dutch, Chinese and other Europeans came to the islands in search of rich spices, especially nutmeg and mace. The waves of influence from abroad had great affect on the islands, especially the introduction of Islam and Christianity. Despite such changes, the war dance called the cakalele, has been continuously performed for centuries. This vigorous dance is performed by men, each with an hour-glass shaped wood shield (salawaku) inlaid with shell; at times a spear is held in the other hand. In some areas the men paint themselves black with charcoal and wear special garments associated with warriors. The exact meaning of the widely performed cakalele dance is unclear, but it is thought to have been performed as part of (no longer practiced) headhunting traditions or, more generally, danced before and after war raids. The cakalele has been described in a recently discovered document as a dance that symbolically recounts the overthrow and slaughter of the ruling nobles on the island of Banda by the Dutch in the 17th century. Today dance shields are still made for performers who present the dance during important celebrations, on the occasion of an important visitor, or for the benefit of tourists.


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