Ritual Seat for a Noble (Osa'osa), 19th century
Ono Niha people, Gomo and Tae River area, Central region, Nias Island, Indonesia
Stone; H. 27 1/4 in. (69.2 cm)
Gift of Jean Paul and Monique Barbier–Mueller, 1988 (1988.125.1)
The artists of Nias island are notable for their monumental stone sculpture. Created to honor nobles of either sex, large stone sculptures were commissioned by aristocratic men as part of the ceremonial requirements of owasa ("feasts of merit"). Stone seats (osa'osa) are unique to Central Nias, where they serve as thrones for high-ranking nobles on important occasions.
Osa'osa often bear multiple names, describing different aspects of their form and imagery. Broadly, this work is a si sara bagi, indicating that it has one (rather than three) heads. More poetically it is called laeluo ("leaves in the sun"), a metaphorical reference to its aristocratic sponsor, whose resplendence illuminates the village like sunlight shining on the leaves of trees. Specifically, it is a gogowaya (hornbill), a large forest bird, depicted as a fantastic composite creature with the legs and teeth of a feline or crocodile, the antlers of a deer, and the beak, crest, and tail of a hornbill. Serving as a supernatural guardian for its noble rider, its ferocity is emphasized by a warrior's necklace (kalabubu) worn around its throat.