Toba Batak people, Sumatra, Indonesia
Wood, Chinese trade ceramic
H. 13 1/2 in. (34.3 cm)
Gift of Fred and Rita Richman, 1988 (1988.124.2a,b)
In the past, containers for magical substances formed a central component of the ritual paraphernalia of Toba Batak religious specialists (datu). Often consisting, as here, of imported ceramic vessels sealed with locally carved wood stoppers, such containers were primarily used to hold pukpuk, a powerful supernatural substance typically derived from a ritually slain human victim. Pukpuk was used to enliven sacred objects, such as ritual staffs or human figures, through being applied to the surface or inserted into holes in the object that were later plugged to seal the power within.
The stopper of this container depicts a rider mounted on a supernatural animal known as a singa. Often combining the features of horses, snakes, water buffalo, large feline predators, and other animals, singa are fantastic composite creatures that serve as supernatural protectors and are associated with the nobility.