Section from a house façade with a human figure

Mamasa Toraja peoples
late 19th–early 20th century
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General Description

Toraja noble houses are imposing buildings distinguished by a roof that sweeps upward at each end and by their densely carved and painted façades. Those from the Mamasa area are broader and lower than their Sa’dan counterparts, and only Mamasa houses feature human figures in their carved decorations. The domed forehead and heart-shaped face of this figure link it to the Bronze Age, when similar images appeared on ceremonial axes and drums. Mamasa figures are usually shown astride the carved head of a water buffalo; however, this figure appears to straddle a prowlike element that alludes to a ship, the symbol of safe passage throughout Indonesia. The curvilinear designs on the projecting prow and on the flanking panels relate directly to motifs found on stamped and painted textiles called sarita in the Dallas Museum of Art’s collection.

Adapted from

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