Piso, Knife (chopper) with Ancestor Figure Handle

Batak people

Not on view

This is a striking example of a cleaver knife (piso) with carved ancestor figure handle and decorated sheath from the Batak peoples of Sumatra. Carved from a dark black-colored horn, likely water buffalo horn, this distinctive carved finial figure is typical of those found on other Batak knives, including two in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection (1988.143.23 and 1988.143.24). The carved finial figure has a diminutive yet well composed body, squatting upright with a straight back, the knees closed with hands clasped tightly at the front, gripping a vessel, possibly a ceremonial lime squeezer. These were used by ritual experts to ‘charge up’ and animate spiritual energies during ceremonial protocols. The head is large and imposing with a firmly delineated forehead, brows and cheekbones, a broad nose and ears. The lips are closed and eyes focused, trained directly ahead as if concentrating attention on the task at hand and future events yet to unfold. The allusion to ritual protocols may infer a ceremonial use for the cleaver knife (piso) itself which perhaps was used to cut up and prepare the limes for ceremonial use.

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