Commemorative maternity figure
[gowe or behu lawolo]
19th century or earlier
88.5 (h) x 31.0 (w) x 21.5 (d) cm
National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden
On Nias, impressive stone statues are carved in honour of ancestors and as a marker of a patron’s status and wealth. Depicting a woman embracing her infant, this rare stone figure glorifies the fecundity of the individual woman portrayed rather than an ancestral or guardian spirit synonymous with fertility.
Across Southeast Asia, maternity images are symbols of prosperity and spiritual harmony. A celebration of fertility and continuity, this woman’s sexual and reproductive potency is explicitly acknowledged by her full and pointed breasts and by the small child she holds. Probably the wife of a powerful chief, the woman is depicted wearing lavish gold accoutrements in the form of bangles, ear ornaments and a heavy neck piece. The first event in the cycle of feasts of merit often honours the patron’s wife.