Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia
114.0 (h) x 18.0 (w) x 18.0 (d) cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
The animist beliefs of the Bahau people of Borneo centre on the concept of the soul, its transition through life and death, and the existence of powerful ancestral spirits capable of intervening benevolently or malevolently in human affairs. Portraying individual ancestors, spirit guardians or nature deities, hampatong sculptures sometimes function as grave markers, protecting the vessels in which the remains of the dead are placed after secondary burials.
With elegantly elongated torso and teeth bared ferociously, this striking hampatong has the heart-shaped face, sunken cheeks and bold round eyes typical of Bahau imagery. Recent radiocarbon testing dates this sculpture to the 14th century, demonstrating the long history of hampatong creation in Borneo. The sculpture probably survived in the sheltered environment of a burial cave or large tomb.