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.
[Mark Felix, Brussels, Belgium, until 1977]; Fred and Rita Richman, New York, 1977–1988
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