| Priest's magic staff [tunggal panaluan]

Toba Batak people
Sumatra, Indonesia

Priest's magic staff [tunggal panaluan] 19th century
wood, hair, cotton, fibre
206.5 (h) x 14.0 (w) x 6.5 (d) cm
KIT Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam


Elaborately carved wooden staffs are the most important tools of Batak priests [datu]. Potent and greatly feared, the objects are used in esoteric rites to ward off evil, protect villages and foretell the future. So powerful are they that the sorcerer himself carves the images into his staff, and impregnates it with a magic potion. That powerful substance is created through the macabre process of abducting a child from another community, gaining his allegiance and then killing him with poison and distilling his corpse.

Priests’ staffs usually feature anthropomorphic figures. On this staff, human, demonic and reptilian creatures appear in ascending size, one upon the other. The human hair of the top figure is bound by a headdress of cotton and fibre.

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