Altar depicting the first female ancestor (luli)

DATE:
19th century
MATERIAL AND TECHNIQUE:
Wood and shell
CLASSIFICATION:
Sculpture
DIMENSIONS:
Overall: 21 x 8 1/2 x 7 3/4 in. (53.34 x 21.59 x 19.68 cm)
DEPARTMENT:
Arts of the Pacific Islands
LOCATION:
Arts of the Pacific Islands - Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, Level 3
CREDIT LINE:
Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.
OBJECT NUMBER:
1999.181.McD

General Description

The female figure depicted on this sculpture represents the first female ancestor (luli), the founding mother of a noble matrilineal descent group. In addition to the female figure, the sculpture references boats—an important symbol of the womb and the source of life—and trees, which represent new life. Luli appears on top of the boat-womb motif that rises up like a tree from the lower part of the sculpture. The figure’s outstretched arms also suggest the shape of a boat. Often, the female ancestor may be supported by a decorated pedestal, like the square one here, on which sacrifices or offerings to luli were placed.

In the western islands of the Southeast Moluccas, the contrast between heaven and earth was once important in local beliefs about the universe. The marriage of a masculine sun god and a feminine earth ensured the continuity of life. The cleft-diamond shape of the pedestal, which represents the gold ear ornaments worn by men, is probably a reference to the sun god.

Excerpt from

Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, 2013.