Ancestral Couple (Ana Deo), 19th–early 20th century
Nage people, central Flores Island, Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia
Wood; H. 11 3/4 in. (29.8 cm)
Gift of Fred and Rita Richman, 2006 (2006.510)
Probably depicting the illustrious founders of one of the village clans, this extraordinary couple from the Nage people of the island of Flores gaze serenely over all they survey. Among the Nage, human images (ana deo) representing ancestors and other supernatural beings were frequently associated with ancestral shrines (heda). The original context of the present work is uncertain. However, the couple may originally have been the "riders" who sat atop a larger ceremonial horse figure (jara heda) erected in front of one of the village shrines, from which they were later removed and preserved as a sacred object by the clan.
Although many jara heda are riderless, some have ancestral figures mounted atop their backs. The rider is typically a single male figure, representing the clan founder, shown seated astride the horse's neck with his legs extending down either side of the animal's body. He is accompanied, in some cases, by his wife, who appears behind him riding sidesaddle. The posture of the present ancestral pair, seated side by side in a frontal stance with the legs drawn in toward the body, is thus somewhat unusual for such equestrian figures and it is possible the image was created as an independent work. Whatever its original purpose and context, the quiet dignity of the figures, the man's arm clasped around his consort's shoulder in a gesture of tender embrace, makes this sculpture a compelling work.