In Focus

Standing charm figure

Throughout Indonesia, traditional peoples created a wide variety of protective charms to ensure well-being and prosperity. Images of animals, ancestors, and spirit beings were cast in various materials and carved from wood, bone, and, in some rare instances, ivory. A small number of amulets crafted from either wood or buffalo horn are known to exist from Atauro.

While its function and meaning are not fully understood, the stance of the Dallas charm is similar to those of itara figures (see 1981.15), yet its detailing is also consistent with the embellishments found on older, more singular Atauro objects. Those singular items include a figure carved at the top end of a unique ceremonial shield and a squatting funerary statue. Each of those figures has a well-delineated spinal column and protruding or engraved scapulae and shoulder blades; their eyes are either covered with thin copper or flat brass disks or inlaid with copper or brass rivets. This charm exhibits all those traits. It also possesses faintly visible engraved lines over its waist, wrist, and ankles. Those markings are presumably references to jewelry, as bracelets, earrings, and pendants are depicted on some Atauro images.

This amulet's stylish bun and prominent breasts probably tie her to an important female ancestor or perhaps even to the "bearer of unripe coconuts," Lebu-Hmoru, the goddess of fertility, who ensures the fecundity and regeneration of all things. First observed secreted in a small compartment within a betel nut box made from woven palm leaves, this unique charm belonged to an elderly woman who had inherited it from her father. Once a highly valued heirloom, it was said to possess protective powers that ensured the prosperity and good health of its owner. That this charm was crafted from a precious material accords well with its diminutive size and tactile appeal. Years of handling have given it a fine surface and lustrous patina.

Adapted from

Steven G. Alpert, "Standing charm figure," 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), 270-271.