This is why I Love Tribal Art: A Classic Figure from the Moluccas Islands

Ancestor Figure (Iene), Leti Island, Maluku, Indonesia. Wood. H: 14.5 cm, 19th century. Private collection

This is what a tribal art lover hopes to find, an object that is elegant, lyrical yet possess a distinctly ‘primitive’ quality. This small figure is carved seated, with his arms crossed and elbows resting on his knees, a classic posture of figural forms from the small island of Leti in Maluku, eastern Indonesia. Known as iene, such figures would have been carved five days after a death of a family member, which is believed to the moment a soul enters the figure and kept in the family home. The long earrings and extension from the forehead identify the deceased as a person of high social rank. In the realm of tribal art, this figure would be the equivalent of an Old Master painting – classic, beautiful and a collector’s treasure.

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