Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia
Soul boat in the form of a hornbill
wood, pigments, buttons, nails
26.0 (h) x 79.0 (w) x 13.0 (d) cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
An ancient symbol of transition throughout Southeast Asia, the boat is particularly prominent in many Borneo cultures where it symbolises the journey the human soul takes, usually by river, to the realm of the dead. During funerary rites, boats in the form of sacred hornbills transport spirits to the land of the souls. The finials of this simple river craft display the bird’s feathered tail, long beak and bulging casque. The crouching figure at the rear is the helmsman. The passenger may represent the departing soul.