Figure from the top of a funerary post (jihe)

Bahau Saa' or Bahau-Busang peoples
18th–19th century
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General Description

This figure is Panlih, a protective spirit distinguished by a heart-shaped face and vice-like hands with enormous thumbs and multiple fingers. He crouches with arms and legs flexed, poised for attack and projecting aggressive vigilance.

The figure was originally the upper part of a funerary post that aristocrats erected to glorify the memory and hold the remains of their ancestors and honored dead. The three prongs protruding from the figure’s head once held a ceramic jar made in China or elsewhere in Southeast Asia that contained the carefully prepared bones of an illustrious chief or high-ranking aristocrat. The human figure carved in relief on the central prong represents the deceased individual.

Panlih’s ever-watchful stance reminded the living of the exalted status of the deceased while his superhuman strength assured a safe journey for the aristocratic class to the land of the departed souls.

Excerpt from

Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, 2013.