Ancestor Figure (Tsmas)

19th–early 20th century
Paiwan people
Wood, porcelain
H. 56 x W. 14 x D. 5 in. (142.2 x 35.6 x 12.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Fred and Rita Richman, 1988
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 355
The Paiwan are one of several indigenous peoples living the mountainous interior of Taiwan. Paiwan society is hierarchical, divided into high nobles, minor nobility, and commoners. In former times, only the high nobility was entitled to create or commission certain forms of human images, which portrayed important ancestors (tsmas). The ancestors, whose supernatural influence was controlled by the nobility, had the power to either help or harm the community, depending on whether their spirits received proper respect through ritual observances and offerings. The houses of Paiwan nobles were both the physical and artistic centers of ancestral power and imagery. The remains of noble ancestors were buried within the houses of their descendants, and their images adorned the doorways, house posts, and other architectural elements. This impressive figure likely once adorned a house post in the house of a Paiwan noble family. It portrays a prominent female ancestor, whose remains may have been entombed nearby.
[Hélène Kamer, NParis, until 1978]; Fred and Rita Richman, New York, 1978–1988

Kamer, Hélène. Arts de Taiwan. Paris: Henri Kamer Gallerie, Inc., 1973.