Bilas Melomelo Tribal Bailer, Cymbium Shell Called Gam by the Primitive Mendi Tribe’s “Big Men” that wear them as forehead decorations, & used them also as Currency, Bride Price, etc.. Collected in late 1900’s, Southern Highlands, Papua New Guinea BAL3

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Bilas, baler, bailer, Gam, melo melo, melomelo, once colored with red pigments, still showing.

These Bailer Shells are the most prestigious ornaments in the Southern Highlands - valued much above anything else. 

Such rare large pieces were originally found on the beaches of the Gulf of Carpentaria and traded in the highlands of PNG.

Rare Older Baler Shell called “Gam”, a Prestigious Forehead Ornament, Currency, Bride Price etc… with a necklace of seed beads and minute color beads

Collected on the premises.

Mendi Tribe,

Papua New Guinea Southern Highlands.

 This South Pacific Authentic Bailer or Baler Body ornament is also called Melo melo (melomelo) or Cymbium, it is a genus of sea snails, marine gastropod mollusks in the family Volutidae. One of the largest shells in existence.

Good Condition, nice and large, Highly Collectible. 5” x 4 ½”

 Item BAL3

Such decorative items were only worn during special ceremonies, festivals & rites, either as a head band as seen on photo 1, as a pectoral ornament or as a groin phallus cover. (A similar collector piece was featured at the exhibition "The Art of Papouans" at the Museum” La Charité” in Marseilles – France) 

Compare at $400.00 to $600.00

 Some of the photos show such ornaments worn around the neck or as a phallus cover. Also very important as trade money or currency,  or when very large, to scoop out water out of a leaking canoe. 

In traditional times, Such an item likely made its way from the Papuan Gulf into the interior of the Peninsula through trade. Such shells are very important in the traditional tribal industry, if you can call it such. The relatively flat surface near the lip of the shell can be cut into a woomera. It has many uses besides being worn as a body ornament or penis protection, some being: as currency (in certain areas of New Guinea, bailer shells were as bride price), as a general container, similar to a cup or coolamon, for carrying water or sugarbag honey (Water can be boiled in the shell by placing it directly on the hot coals in the fire and in the coastal villages and along the rivers, to bail water out of canoes as some of those shells are very large, as this one.

Artistic expression in the Highlands is conveyed largely through body art. Diverse in both media and application, the major components of Highlands body ornamentation include bird of paradise plumes, body paint, and an enormous variety of decorative objects made from shell, teeth, beetles, orchid stem, fur, bone, bark, wood, and fiber. (Moriarty recognized the importance of this art and its central position in the broader context of Highlands art. A visionary in any age, he not only developed a unique collection of body decoration from the Highlands of New Guinea, but saw to it that this collection remained intact by donating it to the AGNSW. Today it is part of what is possibly the world's most important accumulation of this art.)

All our collector and rare items come with pages and pages of research about provenance, and with history of the tribes and photos as well, depending on item and whenever possible. When shipping internationally, we group ship multiple purchases to save you money, and find the best rates available.