| Altar [ai tos]

Tetum people
Dafala village, Belu region, west Timor, Indonesia

Altar [ai tos] 19th century or earlier
92.7 (h) x 30.5 (w) x 24.1 (d) cm
The Jerome L Joss Collection, Fowler Museum at University of California, Los Angeles
Photograph: Don Cole


In Tetum communities in Timor, ancestral altars are made from stone or wood and placed in clearings or on stone platforms. The posts are topped with flat discs or additional stone slabs, on which food offerings and sacrifices are made. During ceremonial rites, the simple limbless figures are dressed in jewellery, headdresses and local textiles that display designs similar to the bands of geometric and spiral patterns carved into the posts.

Facing in opposite directions and with simple stylised features and close-set eyes, the two concave human faces of this stone post may represent male and female deities or an ancestral couple. Such symbolic duality is appropriate to altars where supplication for human and agricultural fertility is a strong element of worship.

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