Ot Danum people
Melawi River, Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia
early 20th century
92.0 (h) x 230.0 (w) x 55.0 (d) cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
The Ot Danum people of Borneo believe that dead souls eventually become powerful ancestor spirits. To ensure benevolence, elaborate secondary burials are held, often several years after a death. At these ceremonies various rituals are performed, large numbers of mourners gather, and the bones are cleaned and reinterred in spectacular receptacles.
This house-shaped ossuary to contain the cremated remains or bones of the deceased has elegantly curving finials forming the head and tail of an aso serpent—the guardian of the dead. A delicate bird, associated with the upper world of the ancestors, is perched upon the ridge of the roof. The vault stood on a tall pole at a secondary funeral site, its weathered and silvery appearance attesting to years of exposure to the elements.