Sumba’s ruling class amassed gold by trading horses with European colonists. Mamuli, made in the shape of the female genitalia, are part of the elaborate exchange of gifts before a wedding. When Sumbanese women elongated their ear lobes, they wore mamuli as earrings. Today, they are mostly worn as pendants. Men also occasionally wore mamuli.
Mamuli from West Sumba are often rougher but also more expressive than those from the eastern part of the island. Our example is made of a natural gold-silver alloy, often referred to as tribal gold, because no attempt has been made to refine the gold by separating the two metals. The color has also been enriched by the application of a paste when the earring was made. This combination of factors, in conjunction with the art of the smith, creates the specific character of this aristocratic tribal ornament.