Alorese Bronze Drum

Indonesian drums given as marriage payments

This Yorkshire World Collections object was one of 100 chosen by young people aged 16-24, as part of the London Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World.

This bronze drum, known as a 'Moko', is from Alor in Indonesia, and is probably over 120 years old. In Alor, drums like this were signs of wealth and status. They were used mainly as payments at marriage, when they passed from the groomís family to the bride's. In fact, by the early 20th Century they were so common in Alor that the Dutch East Indies government saw them as a kind of money. In an attempt to regulate the currency, and introduce a modern economy, the colonial government ordered the Moko drums to be collected and destroyed in 1919. Many survived however, hidden away as precious heirlooms.

The bronze drums are still made today. Shapes and decorations vary, and questions remain about what the figures on the side represent. We donít know if they are ancestors, gods or simple entertainers. Other decorations refer to the idea of the  Ship of the Dead and show ideas of prosperity, fertility and power.


Economy - Financial system
Regulate - Control
Colonial - The commanding or ruling system
Heirloom - Valuable item belonging to your family
Ancestors - Relatives
Prosperity - Wealth
Fertility - The ability to produce, usually new life

Young person's response to this object

I like that this drum has been secretly hidden by someone so that could still exist today. It makes the drum even more precious as it gives it personal significance. Katie Chester

Discussion Ideas:

  • This drum was made as a marriage payment. What is this system called?
  • The drum was made as payment from the groom's family to the bride's family. How is this different in other cultures?
  • Instead of money, this drum was used as a kind of currency. What other kinds of currency could you use today instead of money?
    Depending on your answer to this question, how successful do you think that would be, and what do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of other systems?
  • The government in Indonesia at the time this drum was made tried to 'regulate' the use of drums as currency. Who regulates our money today?
  • What has been in the news that has upset people who regulate our money?

Activity Ideas:

  • With your classmates make a list of things you value and might leave as 'heirlooms'. Do you choose the same type of things? How are they different?
  • Talk about the things that are signs of prosperity to you and your classmates. Properity and success can mean different things to different people. What other things might some people value more than money?
  • Alor in Indonesia is very remote. Look at the Google map below to see where it is and identify its neighbouring countries.
  • Write down all the possible methods that such a remote island could use these days to communicate. Discuss in the class whether it is actually necessary to communicate with other countries, and if so, why?

Document icon Learning article provided by: South East Asia Museum | 
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