Elaine and Jim
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Red Case: Myths and rituals

Unknown artist

Malay people, Brunei

Ceremonial kettle

Unknown artist Ceremonial kettle 17th - 19th century  brass National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Ceremonial kettle 17th–19th century brass National Gallery of Australia enlarge

Where did this ceremonial kettle come from, and what is it used for?
This brass kettle was made in Brunei, in Indonesia, but it has many motifs that reflect its Chinese origins. It is decorated with symbols that are said to bring luck, good fortune and fertility. The dragon motif on the spout and handle is a symbol of the Emperors in China — an Emperor is a very powerful person. The goldfish around the kettle symbolise wealth and are a charm to ward off evil. On the lid is a creature that resembles a phoenix. The mythical phoenix is the emperor of all birds. It is also a symbol of marriage.

This kettle would have been highly treasured as an heirloom (a special object handed down through generations) or perhaps in a dowry (a wedding gift from a bride's family to the groom's family), and formed part of the traditional symbols of wealth and status of the owner. It would have been used to serve drinking water during a wedding or a major festival.


  • Do you have any good luck charms? What are they?
    Think of stories or cartoons where you may have heard of these animals:
    dragon, phoenix, and goldfish.
  • What special powers do they have in these stories?
  • Does your family have special things that are 'kept for best'? On what occasions are they used?
  • We know this kettle was made in Indonesia. Why do you think it has so many Chinese motifs?