Ancestral horse with two riders
[ja heda or jara heda]
19th century or earlier
120.0 (h) x 320.0 (w) x 50.0 (d) cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
This monumental horse with a small pair of ancestor riders is an extraordinary sculpture. On tall wooden poles, it stood guard at the entrance to the clan temple, where sacred heirlooms are stored. The horse’s flanks are deeply carved with decorative motifs similar to those on Flores textiles, gold jewellery and architectural facades. A spirit guardian, capable of conferring wealth and power, this huge creature represents a horse [jara] and a serpent-bodied naga with a powerful equine head and long graceful body.
Seated side-saddle, the female ancestor places her hand fondly on her male partner who confidently holds the reins. Representing the founding ancestors, the couple possess powers that enable them to fly on naga-horses. The erect penises of horse and male rider portend fertility.