Finial from a Ritual Staff (Tungkot Malehat)

Date: 19th–early 20th century

Geography: Indonesia, Sumatra

Culture: Toba Batak people

Medium: Copper alloy, resin

Dimensions: H: 4 1/2 in. (11.4 cm)

Classification: Metal-Ornaments

Credit Line: Gift of Fred and Rita Richman, 1988

Accession Number: 1988.143.141


Toba Batak religious specialists (datu) formerly employed ritual staffs whose supernatural powers aided them in performing ceremonies. These staffs were of two types: larger examples (tunggal panaluan) carved from a single piece of wood and smaller composite staffs (tungkot malehat) with separately made finials. The brass figure seen here was originally the finial of a tungkot malehat. The serene expression of the figure suggests the subject may be in a trance. This, together with the cylindrical vessel held by the figure, which possibly represents a container for magical substances, suggest the image may portray a datu during a ritual performance. The hollow interior of the figure is filled with a resinous material, visible through holes in the headdress and chest. This was almost certainly a magical substance, which enhanced the supernatural power of the staff.