eastern Indonesia, Indonesia
31.2 (h) x 110.2 (w) x 7.0 (d) cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
For individuals and communities on the eastern Indonesian island of Alor, the water serpent or dragon is a protective being that defends against evil and ensures good fortune, fertility and a bountiful harvest. Intricate serpent carvings such as these are placed on wooden poles in front of houses and in special ceremonial buildings in the centre of villages. Bowls are positioned before the carvings for offerings of chicken or rice.
The images are also placed in grain fields to prevent rodent damage to crops. This explains their title pragden, meaning mouse catcher. Since a plague of mice is considered the embodiment of the wrath of the ancestors when correct ritual and customary law has been transgressed, the sculptures play an integral role in appeasing and honouring ancestral beings.