Door with protective symbols (baa betamen)

Kayan people
early 20th century
more object details

General Description

A pair of stylized dog-tigers (aso’lejau) is carved in low relief on this pivot-style door. The door’s handle serves as the body shared by both animals.

In pre-colonial times, the aso’lejau motif was reserved exclusively for aristocrats and found on entrance doors to the living quarters in longhouses and in the residence of the paramount chief. The carved imagery and the door handle were not considered merely decorative, but meaningful. The mythical dog-tiger, for example, was believed to protect both a chief’s mortal body and his soul from human intruders and evil spirits. The larger animal forming the door handle symbolizes the transition from a chief’s living quarters to the outside world. The placement of smaller, less defined aso, alludes to the complementary relationship between the chief and his people.

Excerpt from

Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, 2013.