COLLECTION MUSEE DU QUAI BRANLY, PARIS
Whether from the Americas, Asia or Oceania, the bracelets in the quai Branly museum each have their own particular history. Worn alone or in pairs, on the forearm or wrist, they emphasise the status of the individual, as much for men as for women: boar tooth arm bracelets from Vanuatu, of priceless magnificence, are reserved for ‘Great Men’ and testify to their position in the hierarchical order (15).
The materials from which they are made, ivory, mother of pearl, feathers, cord, pearls, shells and teeth are chosen for their aesthetic and symbolic qualities, such as metal, whose melting implies a dangerous alchemic power that sets apart the African blacksmith from the rest of the village (2). In some societies, the durability of the material secures its status through time (1). For others, the intensity of a colour highlights the existence of a spiritual manifestation via natural elements (animal, mineral, vegetable) (18).
Whether richly decorated or starkly plain, their decoration often makes reference to abstract principles (fertility, royal power, presence of ancestors) (14).
As transferable objects, bracelets can be used as currency for ceremonial exchange (16). However, in the course of such transactions, their meaning and function can alter over time, as with the Java bracelet, which – rolled up in a band of beaten bark and hidden from sight – lost its function as an object of finery through the ensuing centuries, re-emerging as an object of worth and prestige in New Guinea (12).
Constance de Monbrison & Ludovic Coupaye
Musée du quai Branly
Musée des arts et civilisations d’Afrique, d’Asie, d’Océanie et des Amériques.
218 rue de l’Université,
ou 37 quai Branly,
T +33 1 56 61 70 00