House Post (Tomok), 19th–early 20th century
Yami people, Botel Tobago (Lan Yü) Island, Taiwan
Wood, paint; H. 81 1/2 in. (207 cm)
From the Collection of Nina and Gordon Bunshaft, Bequest of Nina Bunshaft, 1994 (1995.65.2)
The Yami people live along the shores of Botel Tobago (Lan Yü) Island off the southeast coast of Taiwan. This house post (tomok) once stood at the center of a Yami dwelling. Often reused for generations, tomok were highly valued objects that passed by inheritance from fathers to their eldest sons. The designs on tomok are organized into horizontal bands, which are often decorated with motifs similar to those that appeared on the large fishing canoes on which the Yami formerly depended for their livelihood.
The central circular motifs on this example, called mata no tatara (eyes of the canoe), depict the eyelike designs that once adorned the bows and sterns of canoes. The figures at the bottom represent Magamoag, a culture hero who taught the Yami the arts of boat-building and agriculture. The Magamoag images may have served a protective function, guarding the household from anito, the malevolent spirits of the dead. The other designs portray more informal scenes of fish and fishing.