Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Ancestor Figure (Itara)

late 19th–early 20th century
Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, Atauro Island
Atauro Island
H. 11 7/8 in. (30.2 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.
[Mark Felix, Brussels, Belgium, until 1977]; Fred and Rita Richman, New York, 1977–1988

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.

Jacobs, Julian. The Nagas: Hill Peoples of Northeast India: Society, Culture, and the Colonial Encounter. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1990.

Taylor, Paul Michael, and Lorraine Aragon. Beyond the Java Sea: Art of Indonesia's Outer Islands. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, 1991.

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, 144, 246-7.

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