| Protective figure [pangulubalang or pagar]

Toba Batak people
Sumatra, Indonesia

Protective figure [pangulubalang or pagar] 19th century
127.0 (h) x 12.0 (w) x 14.0 (d) cm
Purchased 2008
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
NGA 2008.801


In Batak communities, powerful priests erect sinister-looking figurative sculptures around village perimeters and outside houses to protect communities from marauding spirits and souls of the dead. Sculptures are also used to launch supernatural attacks on enemies and oppose epidemics and disasters. The magician priest creates the sculpture [pangulubalang] and imbues it with a spirit ally under his control—in the past often the soul of a headhunting victim. Magic potions [pupuk] are concealed within the figure, in crevices or small recesses.

In a typical pose for female guardian figures, this pagar stands with knees bent and hands placed on the belly, thumbs touching below the pupuk receptacle. Male figures often wield a sword.

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