Knife hilt

Toba Batak peoples
17th–19th century
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General Description

In the depiction of a human body on this knife hilt, an extraordinarily large face is accompanied by disproportionally small arms and legs, which arch toward the back. This indicates that a much-feared priest or magician (datu) is represented. From the Batak perspective, the head should be oversized because it is the most important part of the body.

The datu wears a headdress that represents the stylized head and beak of a hornbill. The image symbolizes the datu’s ability to transform himself into a hornbill, a bird the Batak associated with visionary activity and journeys to the land of the dead.

Adapted from

Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, 2013.