moesgaard museum, de etnografiske samlinger, ethnography, collections, museum, aarhus, denmark, headhunting, philippines

Headhunter Knife – The Philippines

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Not actually having cut off someone’s head, this knife is the festive copy of ones that were meant for just that!

In the 1970’s, anthropologist Renato Rosaldo did longterm fieldwork among the Ilongot headhunters of the Philippines, trying to understand the urge these people would occasionally feel to cut off someone else’s head. Going through great trouble as to grasping this practice, Rosaldo didn’t come to terms with it until he faced a deeply unfortunate situation: the tragic death of his wife and fellow researcher, Michelle Rosaldo. Stating that Ilongot headhunting was not suited for intellectual explanation, Rosaldo advocated for the phenomenon to be understood only through experiencing the kind of grief and resulting rage that would trigger this urge oneself – thus making for quite a controversial statement within the anthropological discipline at the time. Must we always experience the same as our informants in order to fully understand them? Can we? And how, then, do we convey to others what we learn?

This knife, locally called tek-yaden, was collected by Henrik Hvenegaard Mikkelsen, and is allegedly a child-size version meant for parades and festivals, as headhunting is no longer openly practiced in the Philippines. The skill of making the knives, however, lives on and has become a way for older generations to pass on traditional knowledge to the youth who drift further and further from the customs that once were.

/ Ciara Coogan


Photo: © 2007 Photo/Media Department of Moesgaard Museum.

Byline portrait: © 2015 Line Beck,


Henrik Hvenegaard Mikkelsen (2011): “Viden og kunsten at lave et hovedjægersværd”, in Jordens Folk: Ting, No. 3:46, pp. 11-13.

Renato Rosaldo (2004 [1984]) “Grief and the Headhunter’s Rage”, in RC McGee and RL Warms (eds.) Anthropological Theory. An Introductory History, Boston: McGraw Hill, pp. 579-93.


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One thought on “Headhunter Knife – The Philippines”

  1. Pingback: Garamut Slit-Drum – Baluan Island | ethnographica

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