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Reproduced courtesy of Bruce Wiggan

Carved Pearl Shell Gwarn and Ridji

Date: 2015
185 x 124 x 30 mm
393 grams
Medium: Pearl Shell and natural pigment
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Copyright: © Bruce Wiggan
Classification:Ceremonial artefact
Object Name: Shell
Object No: 00054866
Related Place:Western Australia,

User Terms

    Carved Pearl Shell Gwarn and Ridji
    SignificanceUnique ceremonial and culturally significant shells specific to WA.
    Distinctive to Aboriginal culture especially to the Bardi people from WA and known as riji or jakuli in the Bardi language.

    Incised pearl shells with a mixture of ochre and resin rubbed into the grooves of engraved ceremonial stories, to highlight inscribed designs.
    Riji were traditionally worn by the men who had been initiated to a high level and were worn as pubic coverings tied on with a belt made of hairstring. Riji are connected with water, spiritual powers and healing due to the shiny, glowing quality of their surfaces. In Bardi culture the light reflecting of the shells is linked to lightning flashes which are seen during the monsoon season as well as linking them to the flash of light of the cheeks of the Rainbow Serpent who is connected to water and rain.

    They are usually incised with sacred patterns and tribal insignia or inscribed to tell a story. Riji were objects of great value and were traded with inland Aboriginal people along ancient trade routes and songlines over vast areas of the continent. They have been found at Yuendumu in the desert, south-eastern Arnhem Land, Queensland and South Australia.
    Certain Aboriginal artists with cultural knowledge and permissions are still making Riji today, and many can be seen in Broome. Some use the older, sacred patterns, while others choose to use more modern designs.

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