Finial from a Ritual Staff (Tungkot Malehat), 19th–early 20th century
Toba Batak people, Sumatra, Indonesia
Copper alloy, resin; H. 4 1/2 in. (11.4 cm)
Gift of Fred and Rita Richman, 1988 (1988.143.141)
Toba Batak religious specialists (datu) formerly employed ritual staffs whose supernatural powers aided them in performing ceremonies. These staffs were of two types: larger examples (tunggal panaluan) carved from a single piece of wood and smaller composite staffs (tungkot malehat) with separately made finials. The brass figure seen here was originally the finial of a tungkot malehat. The serene expression of the figure suggests the subject may be in a trance. This, together with the cylindrical vessel held by the figure, which possibly represents a container for magical substances, suggest the image may portray a datu during a ritual performance. The hollow interior of the figure is filled with a resinous material, visible through holes in the headdress and chest. This was almost certainly a magical substance, which enhanced the supernatural power of the staff.