Sword with a Janus-faced hilt in an undecorated sheath

Toba Batak peoples
c. 1800–1850
more object details

General Description

The sculptor carved this sword’s hilt in the form of two opposing identical faces that are reminiscent of those found on Batak helmet masks. Three iron pins inserted into the opened lower edge—where the chins of the Janus faces merge— can be interpreted as furled lips with tongues protruding. This is a motif to which the Batak assigned the power of fending off disaster. The sheath features three projections that are functional: they held the sword’s carrying cord, or sash, firmly in place.

This elaborately decorated sword was probably not used in hand-to-hand combat but was part of a Batak warrior’s attire on ceremonial occasions.

Excerpt from

Roslyn Adele Walker, Ph.D., Senior Curator, The Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific, The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art, DMA Label copy on TMS, June 2013.