19th or early 20th century
wood, yellow glass beads
38.0 (h) x 17.5 (w) x 13.0 (d) cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Photograph: Michel Gurfinkel, Paris © Galerie Meyer - Oceanic Art, Paris
At the far end of the Indonesian archipelago, carved wooden figures, korwar, function as receptacles for spirits of significant ancestors. Each korwar is specifically made for an individual, and sometimes holds the skull of that person. The skull also contains the spirit of the dead.
Souls of the deceased depart for the realm of the ancestors during mortuary rites but may be invited back to occupy the korwar if spiritual assistance is required in the mortal world. When a village priest uses a korwar for augury, he asks the spirit of the recent dead to predict the outcome of major communal undertakings such as waging war. Korwar can also serve as guardians of coffins which are often boat shaped. In front of this figure, tree and serpent forms emerge from a stylised canoe.