Kota Agung district, Lampung, Sumatra, Indonesia
19th century or earlier
split rattan, cotton, beads, shells
50.0 (h) x 373.0 (w) cm
Acquired through gift and purchase from the Collection of Robert J Holmgren and Anita E Spertus, New York 2000
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
The ship is an ancient recurring image in Southeast Asian art. A powerful symbol of transition, especially from this world to the afterlife, it appears on grave goods and trade items from the Bronze Age until modern times. The earliest coffins discovered across Southeast Asia are boat-shaped. Ships are still found on textiles, mats, sculptures and paintings that symbolise and celebrate the most important transition in a person’s life, the journey of the soul to the realm of the ancestors.
In its most overt form, the boat depicts the vehicle in which the spirit of the deceased travels to the other world. Ship imagery is also displayed at other ceremonies of the lifecycle when an individual moves from one social or spiritual state to another, including initiations into adulthood such as tooth-filing, and at weddings.