north Nias, Indonesia
Monument honouring a chief
19th century or earlier
160.0 (h) x 30.0 (w) x 41.0 (d) cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
In former times, monumental sculptures carved from stone and wood in the form of ancestral and aristocratic effigies, obelisks, pillars, steles and seats of honour were prolific throughout the island of Nias. These impressive monuments are still a feature of traditional villages which consist of immense wooden houses, paved terraces and stone plazas.
This spectacular gowe salawa, commissioned for an owasa feast, is carved in the realistic style identified with the villages of northern Nias. Shown in the squatting position—an ancient and enduring pose appearing repeatedly in the ancestral art of Southeast Asia—the gowe salawa is shown with sword at the waist and wearing the characteristic gold moustache and pointed beard favoured by the nobility.