BATAK TOBA MAGIC SHAMAN STAFF
Tunggal Panaluan C1880
Sumatra, Indonesia Length 168cm (66ins)
This elaborately carved beautiful Batak staff masterpiece is one of the finest old examples of type. It displays at a very pure expression of ancient Batak iconography with superbly refined carving. This style is associated with two of the six sub-tribes of the Batak, specifically the Pak Pak and what is termed the Archaic Toba; it is amongst the most sought after of Indonesian tribal works of art and has provenance dating from an QUEENSLAND Family Collection.
Warm deep dark rich patina.
Located in the mountainous highlands of northern Sumatra, the Batak are one of the largest indigenous groups in Indonesia. They are divided into six groups, the Toba, Pak Pak/Dairi, Karo, Angkola, Mandailing, and Simalungun, and have an estimated total population of 3 million.
The most powerful members of a Batak community are ritual specialists, known as datu. They are experts in religion, and are most often members of the village's founding family. These specialists, who are exclusively male, are able to cure the sick, contact the spirits of the dead, and predict auspicious days for particular events.
A datu's most important possession is his ritual staff, made of special wood that symbolizes the tree of life. Since a specialist is required to create his own staff, they vary widely in style and form. Specialists "animate" or activate the power of the figures by filling them with a magical potion, known as pupuk. This substance is considered to be extremely powerful and can be stored only in certain types of containers such as the hollow horns of water buffalo, wooden vessels, or Chinese trade ceramics.
Potent and greatly feared, these ornate magic staffs are used in esoteric rites to ward off evil, protect villages and foretell the future. So powerful are they that the sorcerer himself carves the images into his staff, and impregnates it with a magic potion. That powerful substance is created through the macabre process of abducting a child from another community, gaining his allegiance and then killing him with poison and distilling his corpse.
Priests’ staffs usually feature complex anthropomorphic figures. On this staff, human, demonic and reptilian creatures appear in ascending size, one upon the other. The upper shaft displays six (6) human faces/figures & eleven (11) horned demonic faces/figures. The lower shaft has seven (7) human faces/figures front & back. A lizard figure & the long tails of the demon figures cascade down the back of the staff. The human hair of the top figure is bound by a headdress of cotton and fibre.
Caglayan, Ph.D., Emily. "The Batak". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/bata/hd_bata.htm (October 2004)
Capistrano-Baker, Florina H. Art of Island Southeast Asia: The Fred and Rita Richman Collection. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994.
Sibeth, Achim The Batak: Peoples of the Island of Sumatra. New York: Thames & Hudson, 1991.