Toba Batak people
north Sumatra, Indonesia
wood, bark, pigments
wooden cover 25.0 (h) x 17.5 (w) x 8.0 (d) cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
While literacy was rare in Southeast Asian animist cultures, the Batak peoples developed a unique alphabet and script. In distinctive folding bark books, Batak shamans [datu] record charms, prophesies and magic formulae, illuminated with protective schematic motifs and creatures. To preserve the magic and power of the practitioners, a book’s contents are usually only decipherable by the priest who wrote them. During some rites, manuscripts may be unfolded and draped over the shoulder of the datu as an amulet.