Indigenous shell forehead band from northern Queensland

Aboriginal shell forehead band from Cooktown

Aboriginal shell forehead band, Queensland

Australian Museum Photography Unit © Australian Museum

Description

This is an Indigenous shell forehead band made from 59 rectangular pieces of nautilus shell, each with a centrally drilled hole. The shell pieces are threaded onto a double strand of handspun bark-fibre string. A strand of red plant fibre has been wound around the part of the string that would touch the skin. The total length of the twine is 119 cm and each shell segment is 1.8 cm x 0.8 cm. The band was collected from near Cooktown in northern Queensland in 1905.

Educational value

This shell forehead band, called a 'jil-nga', was worn as a body adornment by the Gugu-Yalanji language group whose country includes the area now known as Butchers Hill, near Cooktown. The men wore adornments such as this on their foreheads while women wore them as necklaces. Forehead bands were traded with other language groups in the surrounding region and the men from some language groups chose to wear them as necklaces.

Indigenous women along the north-eastern coast of Australia collected nautilus shell, which was valued for its unique qualities. Its white pearl lustre made it an attractive component of necklaces and breast ornaments. Its ability to be sharpened made it suitable for the manufacture of fishhooks, scrapers, knives and drills. These qualities made the shell a valuable item, and both the raw shell and finished products were traded.

The shell shown was cut into regular rectangular pieces and a hole was made in the middle of each segment with a drill made from bone, tooth or shell. Two strands of bark fibre from a tree with a fibrous trunk were hand spun on the thigh to create a long piece of twine. The twine was threaded through the holes in the shell and pulled tight so the shells overlapped. Excess twine was left at each end for knotting and a strand of red plant fibre was wound around it.

Shell forehead bands and necklaces such as this one were worn by people along the coasts of the entire Cape York Peninsula as well as the language groups that lived inland. It is presumed that either the raw material or the finished products were traded with the language groups that lived far from the coast.

This forehead band was collected near Cooktown by Dr Walter Edmund Roth, who was First Protector of Aboriginals for north Queensland from 1898 to 1905. He was interested in the Indigenous cultures of the region and collected more than 2,000 ethnographic objects. In 1905 the Australian Museum purchased his entire collection, now known as the Roth Collection.
 


Ms Helen Wheeler , Education Project Officer
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