Guardian figure “hampatong”

The small statuette we see below represents a human male figure in a slightly forward tilted squatting position. It is made of very hard wood. It is belian (Eusideroxylon zwageri), a type of ironwood which is widespread in South-East Asia and is used for durable constructions. The figure has a strongly weathered surface, which is due to the long lasting influences of weather and wood parasites. The angled arms and legs are also subject to weathering. The base shows traces of sawing, suggesting that the figure originally crowned a post or pole.

The figure was most likely part of a hampatong. These are protective figures that are supposed to shield the Dayak villages from the possibly malevolent spirits of the surrounding jungle. They are placed at the edge of the village or on the village square in front of the longhouses. Such figures were also exchanged between the tribes during peace treaties and placed in front of the chieftain’s house to illustrate the agreement reached.

The peculiar ghostly, almost astonished expression of the face is not intended by the carver but is the work of nature. The figure therefore illustrates in a particularly impressive way its position between the primeval forest, the sacred, untouched sphere of spirits and gods, and the human world, on whose borders it keeps watch. For this reason, she also welcomes visitors to the exhibition: “YOU CAN LEAVE YOUR HEAD ON”, which deals, among other things, with the transitions between the worlds and forms of existence.

Object Guardian figure “hampatong”

Borneo, Kalimantan, South or East, Dayak, Ngadju or Kajan

Time Around 1900

Height 32 cm

Material Ironwood (Eusideroxylon zwageri)
Supplementing Literature Back to room view