Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Container for Magical Substances (Naga Morsarang)

19th–early 20th century
Indonesia, Sumatra
Toba Batak people
Water buffalo horn, wood
H. 20 1/2 x W. 10 1/4 x D. 3 in. (52.1 x 26 x 7.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Fred and Rita Richman, 1987
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 355
Among the Batak people of Sumatra, the datu, or ritual specialist, required a variety of containers made of different materials to hold his supernaturally powerful mixtures and potions. This vessel, known as a naga morsarang, consists of the hollow horn of a water buffalo, its outer surface incised with curving foliate designs. In the interior of the horn, the earth deity Boraspati Ni Tano is represented in the form of a lizard, a motif that occurs on other ritual objects such as divination books.

The horn's pointed end is carved in the form of a seated human figure. The wider, open end is plugged with an elaborate wooden stopper that depicts the singa (a zoomorphic underworld deity) with four human figures riding on its back. These human figures may represent the succession of ritual masters who preceded the datu who owned the container. It is also possible that the figures are related to mythical characters portrayed on other ritual implements.
[Jim Willis, San Francisco, until 1977]; Fred and Rita Richman, New York, 1977–1987

Schoffel, Alain. Arts primitifs de l'Asie du Sud-Est : Assam, Sumatra, Bornéo, Philippines : collection Alain Schoffel. Meudon, 1981.

Capistrano-Baker, Florina H. Art of Island Southeast Asia: The Fred and Rita Richman Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994, no. 19, pp. 44-45, 123.

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