Lampung, Sumatra, Indonesia
Head of a hornbill from a ceremonial chariot
114.0 (h) x 24.0 (w) x 45.0 (d) cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Ceremonial vehicles are an important part of rites of passage and feasts of merit. In Lampung, members of noble families travelled to festivities in distinctive wooden chariots, sometimes in the form of flying creatures. These included real and mythical birds such as the garuda and hornbill. This imposing head of a hornbill, with distinctive casque and curved beak, was mounted on the front of a vehicle, possibly to carry a noble bride and groom.
Across Southeast Asia, birds are seen as symbols of transition and representations of the upper realm of deified ancestors. Many important supernatural figures assume the form of the majestic hornbill, often seen as the messenger of the gods. The hooks and heart-shaped double spirals on this sculpture are ancient features of Southeast Asian art.