Karajarri Phallocrypt - Australia

Teardrop-shaped ornaments made from the iridescent shell of the pearl oyster or, more rarely, other species were worn and exchanged across much of northern, central, and western Australia. The ornaments were manufactured (and generally engraved) in the Kimberley region on the northeast coast, from shells obtained in the Torres Strait, which separates Australia and New Guinea. Prized as ornaments and ceremonial objects, they were exchanged along a vast system of trade routes that extended as far as Australia’s southern coast, over a thousand miles away. 

Known by a variety of local names, including riji, jakuli, and longkalongka, the ornaments were predominantly worn by men as a cache sexe, suspended from a belt of human hair worn around the waist and, in some instances, as pendants. In some areas they were also worn by women. The meandering, rectilinear designs found in this example, engraved in the pearlescent surface and accented with red ochre, are common in these ornaments. Pearl shell was associated with water, the essence of life, especially in Australia’s arid interior. Its silvery luster embodied the flashing, shimmering qualities of water, rain, and lightning. 

Late 19th or early 20th century
Pearl shell, hair, fiber, pigment
7 5/8” h
Provenance:
- John J. Klejman, New York
- Faith-Dorian and Martin Wright Collection, New York, acquired from the above on December 15, 1966
#587
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