| Divination book [pustaha]

Toba Batak people
north Sumatra, Indonesia

Divination book [pustaha] 18th-19th century
wood, bark, pigments
wooden cover 25.0 (h) x 17.5 (w) x 8.0 (d) cm
Purchased 2000
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
NGA 2000.339


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.

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