| Panel [mamapas pali] depicting a hornbill soul ship [banama tingang]

Ngaju people
Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia

Panel [mamapas pali] depicting a hornbill soul ship [banama tingang] 19th century
wood, paint
26.0 (h) x 171.0 (w) x 5.0 (d) cm
National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden


The ship is an ancient recurring image in Southeast Asian art. A powerful symbol of transition, especially from this world to the afterlife, it appears on grave goods and trade items from the Bronze Age until modern times. The earliest coffins discovered across Southeast Asia are boat-shaped. Ships are still found on textiles, mats, sculptures and paintings that symbolise and celebrate the most important transition in a person’s life, the journey of the soul to the realm of the ancestors.

In its most overt form, the boat depicts the vehicle in which the spirit of the deceased travels to the other world. Ship imagery is also displayed at other ceremonies of the lifecycle when an individual moves from one social or spiritual state to another, including initiations into adulthood such as tooth-filing, and at weddings.

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