This kneeling figure is almost certainly the finial of a tungkot malehat, a type of ritual staf used by religious specialists among the Batak people of Sumatra. The tungkot malehat features a single wooden or metal figure that was often carved or cast separately (as with the present example) and then joined to a staff of rattan or bamboo. A brass figure similar to this one still attached to its wooden staff in the collection of the Volkenkundig Museum Nusantara, Delft, strongly suggests that the Metropolitan's piece served the same function. The cast figure has a large head crowned by a helmet-like headdress decorated with bilaterally symmetrical double spirals and a beaded border. He wears a matching beaded torque around his neck and holds a cylindrical vessel in his lap. The figure is hollow and filled with a dark, hardened substance that was probably added to increase the object's supernatural efficacy.
[Ben Tursch, Brussels, Belgium, until 1976]; Fred and Rita Richman, New York, 1976–1988
Capistrano-Baker, Florina H. Art of Island Southeast Asia: The Fred and Rita Richman Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994, 18, pp. 42-43.
Kjellgren, Eric. Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, 120, 207-9.