south Moluccas, Indonesia
Village altar representing a male heavenly deity
217.0 (h) x 80.5 (w) x 48.0 (d) cm
National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden
In the Tanimbar Islands, ancestral spirits – deified creators, clan and village founders, and deceased rulers – are venerated with impressive wooden sculptures. On Leti, altars are erected on special stone slabs in the village plaza. Perched near the top of a tall pole this seated male figure represents the sky god, the legendary creator ancestor whose union with the earth goddess produces fertility. The figure’s heirloom adornments, large nose and downward-turned eyes are typical of Leti ancestral images.
The height of the pole is an allusion to the deity’s celestial abode. Offerings are placed before the altar during rituals to ensure human and agricultural productivity. Ending in spirals and scrolling openwork and incised motifs its finials form the symbolic boat in which the founding ancestors made their epic journeys thousands of years ago.