Place of Origin: The Philippines (likely the island of Mindanao)
Date: 19th Century
Overall: 530mm x 350mm (20 ¾ x 12 ¾ inches)
A fascinating and rare leather saddle originating from the Southern Philippines (see below for a more expansive discussion of this piece’s origin), decorated throughout with brass plaques and copper panelling.
The pommel of the saddle is fitted with copper plates of various shapes and sizes: two arched panels frame a central arrangement which comprises a cut foliate design placed under domed copper discs, each disc secured in place with brass rivets. Farther down the slopes of the pommel, thick copper alloy and steel cord runs through fixed iron loops which are pierced to hold brass rings for attaching further trappings. The cantle is fixed with copper plates, the outermost pierced with an arched row of heart-shapes and a flowerhead at the centre, whilst the cut-out foliate design attached to the frontal crest is repeated and enlarged over the greater part of the cantle’s central leather surface. The seat then is attached with lateral iron plates, to which large iron buckles are riveted for the attachment of a girth that stretches around the horse belly, the small iron rings alongside are for suspension of leather straps holding the steel stirrups that accompany this set.
It is difficult to pinpoint the precise origin of this intriguing saddle, the name ‘Moro’ referring to the range of 13 Muslim ethnic groups who inhabit the southern islands of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan in the Philippines. But these stirrups, together with the unusual brass plaques which adorn the saddle’s lower panel (just under the cantle) perhaps suggest that this piece may be the work of Maranao craftsmen, the Maranao being an ethnic group that mostly inhabit Mindanao (one of the Moro islands referenced above).
This is on account of the panulung – “the decorated beam-end of a Maranao house” – which in traditional decoration would be structured as an s-shaped curve representing the naga, often carved with ridges along the front of the ‘s’ (or ‘crest’) to represent the mythical sea creature’s scales (this pattern appearing to feature on our own example). The heads of the stirrups may also be those of the sarimanok (a legendary bird of the Maranao people), though the precise iconographical differences between these two creatures can be difficult to identify in Maranao work.
The stirrups are further decorated at the tread with pierced quatrefoils and small arches, as well as engraved four-petalled flowers. Similar examples of Moro decoration have been exhibited by Runjeet Singh, such as a Moro suit of armour (Ref. 156) in Iconic 2017. Another shirt preserved in the Islamic Arts Museum in Malaysia, is fixed with a series of three silver panels, each engraved with a mirrored arrangement of curved tapering leaves and curling flowerheads which present much the same composition and decorative style as the large brass plaques fixed to the lower section of our example.
 Eric Casiño, Ethnographic Art of the Philippines: An Anthropological Approach, Manila (Philippines), 1973, p. 38.
 See David Baradas, “Some Implications of the Okir Motif in Lanao and Sulu Art”, Asian Studies 6, 1968, p. 140; pp. 164-165, Figs. 20-22.
 Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, Symbols of Power and Beauty: The Collection of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 2015, pp. 120-121, No. 53.