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Makassan adze

Date: c 1994
Overall: 334 mm, 0.35 kg
Medium: Hardwood, steel, rattan
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Classification:Tools and equipment
Object Name: Adze
Object No: 00018176
Place Manufactured:Sulawesi

User Terms

    This adze (sangko), used in woodworking, was manufactured in Ujung Pandang, Sulawesi, Indonesia and is representative of the traditional adze used by Macassan traders. It has a lightly ornamented handle and is ornately carved near the base. The blade is tied to the handle by a piece of rattan.

    This adze was typical of the type of tool used by Sulawesi boat builders to shape timbers, smooth planks and so forth. An adze this size may have been carried on board prahus for light running repairs and other small fabricating jobs. The rattan binding was ubiquitous in the past but in the present day fishing line is more commonly used.

    SignificanceThis object is representative of the tools used by Macassan traders in northern Australia.
    HistorySince at least the 17th century Macassan traders from Indonesia were coming to the shores of northern Australia on an annual basis to harvest trepang (sea cucumbers, beche de mer) - a delicacy favoured throughout Asia, particularly in China. At the time, Macassan traders were travelling in the most technologically advanced vessels seen in Australian waters.

    In their prahus (also spelled perahu) they sailed down during the monsoonal wet season and returned at the start of the dry season to trade with Dutch and Chinese merchants. They also collected and traded other marine products such as pearls, pearl shell, trochus shell, fish, turtle shells and meat. This trade started to decline at the turn of the 20th century when the Australian government introduced customs taxes and license fees as a deterrent.

    The contact between the local Indigenous people, the Yolngu and the Macassans had an impact on both cultures in aspects of art, trade, technology, language, economy and even marriage. The Macassan visitors are remembered in Indigenous oral history, ceremonies and paintings depicting Macassan prahus.

    Additional Titles

    Web title: Makassan adze


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