Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Guardian Figure (Pangulubalang)

19th–early 20th century
Indonesia, Sumatra
Toba Batak people
H. 27 1/2 in. (69.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Fred and Rita Richman, 1988
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 355
The weathered surface of this Toba Batak image indicates that it was originally erected outdoors, where it may have served as a village guardian figure. In the past, nearly every village had one or more guardian images, generally in the form of a seated or crouching human figure. Believed to protect the community from sickness, malevolent magic, and enemy attack, the figures contained the spirits of captured enemies who had been ritually slain in order to acquire their supernatural power. Both the spirits and the figures were known as pangulubalang. To activate the guardian figure, pukpuk, a magical substance derived from the body of a sacrificed enemy, and other supernaturally powerful compounds were placed in holes carved into its surface. The square hole in the top of the head of this figure likely originally held its enlivening pukpuk or similar substances. Once transferred to the figure,
the spirit of the village's former enemy was transformed, becoming a powerful supernatural protector.
[Ben Tursch, Brussels, Belgium, until 1977]; Fred and Rita Richman, New York, 1977–1988

Stöhr, Waldemar. Art of the Archaic Indonesians. Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1982, pp. 49-51.

Barbier, Jean-Paul, and Douglas Newton. Islands and Ancestors: Indigenous Styles of Southeast Asia. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1988, pp. 210-11.

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, p.128.

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