In Focus

Serpent-form head ornament (sanggori) & Serpent-form head ornament (sanggori) with human figure

The western region of Central Sulawesi was historically a center for local coppersmithing. Sanggori is one of the names given to a spiral ornament fashioned of copper alloy, a type of adornment that was widespread among the peoples of Central and North Sulawesi and may be ancient in design. In some areas, these ornaments were attached to headcloths, in others, fastened directly in the hair.

The metal is beaten flat, but is ridged. In both the serpent-form head ornament and the serpent-form head ornament with a human figure, there is a single ridge, though in others there may be two or three. In three-ridged examples, the central ridge is suggestive of a serpent, having at the inner tip of the spiral a small pointed head, seen as though from above. The eyes are often very small, sometimes inset with stones, though in other examples, they take the form of circular disks set on the sides of the head. In rare instances, a tiny human face my be seen. The sanggori with a human figure is even more unusual in depicting an entire human figure, with staring eyes and arms akimbo. The significance, either of the serpent or of its combination with a human face or form, is unknown. Walter Kaudern, a Swede who made a lengthy expedition through Central Sulawesi from 1917 to 1920, writes at some length about the sanggori. He records that such spiral ornaments were in use all over Central Sulawesi and in Minahasa in the north. An alternative name for them in Kulwai and Palu is balalunki, or variants thereof, while in north and northwest Sulawesi they are known as sualang.[1]

The sualang as used in Loinang was not of copper alloy but was made from two conjoined tusks of the babirusa, a species of wild pig. Because the tusk in the upper jaw has a more pronounced curve that that in the lower jaw, when two of them are joined together at the base, they take the form of a slightly coiling spiral, very like the sanggori. This type of ornament was worn in a bark-cloth turban by the leader of a headhunting expedition. Walter Kaudern records that the exact manner of wearing the ornament varied from group to group, "but always it is a head ornament solely worn by men."[2] Susan Rodgers, who made inquiries in Kulawi in 1983, was told that it could be worn by both men and women, but only those of aristocratic status.[3] The Sarasin brothers, Swiss explorers who made pioneering journeys through Sulawesi from 1893 to 1896 and 1902 to 1903, described the sanggori as a warrior's head ornament, worn fastened in the hair (men in precolonial times typically wore their hair long in most parts of Indonesia). Being shiny, it was meant to confuse and terrify the enemy by flashing in the sun. The sanggori was also believed to repel sickness or evil forces. At Palu, the Sarasins attended a healing ritual at which the male shamans all wore such ornaments on the left side of the head, with the tip pointing forward.[4] In Kulawi, Kaudern witnessed a ritual for a sick chieftain, in which the balalunki spiral was fastened in his hair in a horizontal position. At Tomata, in east Central Sulawesi, he encountered two young men and a woman on their way to a ceremony in honor of the dead. The young men were wearing sanggori ornaments fastened into their headcloths, arranged so as to stand vertically, with the tail pointing to the right. The woman, for her part, was decked out in a headdress with dangling brass ornaments called tali pampa.[5]

A further use of sanggori is described by Nikolaus Adriani and Albert C. Kruyt in their monumental work on the peoples of east Central Sulawesi, around Lake Tentena. The To Pamona (as they call themselves today) and their easterly neighbors, the To Mori, both held elaborate secondary rituals for the dead. A great festival would be held at which they made a packet of the bones of the deceased, topped with a wooden funerary mask on a stick, called a pemia. The mask, which was shaped like a human face, might have a sanggori fastened on top of it. In the To Mori village of Sampalowo, Kaudern also encountered the tomb of a chief, which contained a life-sized effigy with a pemia-mask as its head, topped by a sanggori.

[1] Kaudern 1938: 320-29; Rodgers 1988: 137.

[2] Kaudern 1938: 323.

[3] Rodgers 1988: 137.

[4] Sarasin and Sarasin 1905, vol 2: 70, and illus. p. 37.

[5] Kaudern 1938: 324-325.

Adapted from

Roxana Waterson, "Serpent-form head ornament (sanggori)" and "Serpent-form head ornament (sanggori) with human figure (detail)," in Eyes of the Ancestors: The Arts of Island Southeast Asia at the Dallas Museum of Art, ed. Reimar Schefold in collaboration with Steven Alpert (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013), 182-183.