Ngadju or Ot Danum people, Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia
H. 71 in. (180.3 cm)
Gift of Fred and Rita Richman, 1988 (1988.124.3)
To honor the dead and protect the living, the Ngadju and Ot Danum peoples of southeastern Borneo create a variety of wood figures, known collectively as hampatong, portraying humans, animals, or supernatural creatures. Large hampatong, such as the present work, are of two basic types: tajahan (images commemorating the dead) and pataho (guardian figures erected to protect the community). The serene countenance of this figure, which lacks the fearsome expression typical of guardian figures, as well as the large jar on which the subject sits, indicate that it is likely a tajahan image.
Clad in an ornate headdress and seated upon a large ceramic trade jar, a symbol of prosperity and prestige, this figure almost certainly depicts a prominent and wealthy man. Large ceramic jars, primarily of Chinese origin, were, and are, prized by indigenous peoples throughout Borneo. Obtained in exchange for forest products, jars are transported to even the most remote inland communities, where they serve both as storage vessels and coveted symbols of wealth and status.