Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Ancestor Figure (Itara)

late 19th–early 20th century
Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, Atauro Island
Atauro Island
H. 8 in. (20.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Fred and Rita Richman, 1988
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 355
The wood sculpture of Ataúro island consists primarily of ancestor images (itara). Carved in male/female pairs, itara portray distant ancestral couples, the founders of specific families and lineages. When in use, each figure is clad in the garments appropriate to its sex, the male in a loincloth and the female in a skirt. The images are kept within the house of the lineage chief, where they were hung, together with other sacred objects, from a sacred rack (ruma tara) attached to one of the house posts. The exact function of the figures remains uncertain. However, they are reportedly used in the detection of thieves, the ancestral spirits going forth in pursuit of the culprits, and also in rites devoted to two local deities, in which five itara are assembled to form the crew of a miniature boat.
[Gallery J. Visser, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, until 1977]; Fred and Rita Richman, New York, 1977–1988

Hersey, Irwin and Marcia. "Indonesian Primitive Art." Arts of Asia vol. 10, no. 5 (September-October 1980).

Duarte, Jorge Barros. Timor, Ritos e Mitos Ataúros. Lisbon: Instituto de Cultura e Língua Portuguesa, Ministério da Educação, 1984.

Duarte, Jorge Barros. "Ataúro: One of the Sunda Islands." Art Tribal no. 1 (1990), pp. 17–31.

Kjellgren, Eric. Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, no. 145, pp. 246–247.

Related Objects

Bodhisattva Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future

Artist: Date: 7th century
Accession Number: 1978.536
Date: 7th century Medium: Bronze inlaid with silver Accession: 1978.536 On view in:Gallery 237

Figure (Hampatong)

Artist: Date: 19th–early 20th century
Accession Number: 1988.124.3
Date: 19th–early 20th century Medium: Wood Accession: 1988.124.3 On view in:Gallery 355

Buddha Preaching

Artist: Date: 8th–early 9th century
Accession Number: 1993.387.6
Date: 8th–early 9th century Medium: Silver alloy Accession: 1993.387.6 On view in:Gallery 246

The Spiritual Master Padmasambhava

Artist: Date: 14th century
Accession Number: 2012.459
Date: 14th century Medium: Copper alloy Accession: 2012.459 On view in:Gallery 253

Seated Buddha

Artist: Date: 7th–8th century
Accession Number: 1980.526.3
Date: 7th–8th century Medium: Sandstone Accession: 1980.526.3 On view in:Gallery 245