Pakpak Batak people
inland Barus, Sumatra, Indonesia
Effigy portrait of the wife of a village chief
19th century or earlier
stone, traces of pigment
92.0 (h) x 34.0 (w) x 40.0 (d) cm
Musée Barbier Mueller, Geneva
© Musée Barbier-Mueller Photograph: Studio Ferrazzini Bouchet
The Batak people create superb stone effigies [mejan] to venerate the noble dead, and assist the transformation of their souls into benevolent ancestor spirits. Male and female sculptures are placed side by side beneath the village banyan tree, where offerings are made to spirits of nature. The Pakpak Batak developed a tradition of cremation hundreds of years ago and the ancestors’ remains are placed in urns alongside their effigies.
This sculpture depicts the majestic wife of a village chief. With heavy armband signifying her high status and wealth, the noblewoman’s nakedness extols her fertility. The cavity above her decorative hair coil once held a bunch of sacred herbs.