| Funerary vault

Ot Danum people
Melawi River, Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia

Funerary vault early 20th century
92.0 (h) x 230.0 (w) x 55.0 (d) cm
Purchased 2010
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
NGA 2010.342.A-K


The Ot Danum people of Borneo believe that dead souls eventually become powerful ancestor spirits. To ensure benevolence, elaborate secondary burials are held, often several years after a death. At these ceremonies various rituals are performed, large numbers of mourners gather, and the bones are cleaned and reinterred in spectacular receptacles.

This house-shaped ossuary to contain the cremated remains or bones of the deceased has elegantly curving finials forming the head and tail of an aso serpent—the guardian of the dead. A delicate bird, associated with the upper world of the ancestors, is perched upon the ridge of the roof. The vault stood on a tall pole at a secondary funeral site, its weathered and silvery appearance attesting to years of exposure to the elements.

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