One of the abiding themes of tribal art is the prominence of ancestors who must be venerated to protect the living. Today’s object focuses on an ornament known as the kandaure from the Toraja people of Southern Sulawesi, Indonesia, where this theme is in full display.
Until the early 20th century, the vast majority of the Toraja people practised animism, the belief in individual spirits inhabiting natural objects and phenomena, and like the rest of tribal Indonesia, the veneration of ancestors is commonplace, with elaborate rituals enacted in funeral ceremonies in honor of the deceased. The higher is the social status of a deceased, the more elaborate are the rituals.
Art imitates life, and this is clearly true to Toraja society even today. From spectacular houses with enormous curved roofs to tombs hewed on high cliff faces, complete with effigies of the dead, to textiles and ornaments used in ritual ceremonies, Toraja culture is a veritable feast for the eyes.
Pictured above are two Kandaures, the colorful beaded ornament that is worn by young men and women helping to receive guests during funeral rituals. Each of these funnel-shaped ornaments measure nearly 5m in length. Both have a narrow red top woven in cotton with a braided band below. The top row shows six standing human-like figures with raised arms on a broad panel with interlocking rhombic patterns. This pattern is known locally as the “squatting ancestor” pattern. It is an ancient pattern found also in other parts of tribal Indonesia such as the Ibans of Borneo and inhabitants of Maluku on the eastern end of the Lesser Sunda Island chain. In between the anthropomorphic figures, the squatting ancestor pattern recurs, albeit in a reduced or simplified form. The frieze of figures and rhombic patterns is intended to be a tribute to ancestors, with the living (represented by the standing figures) and the dead (the abstract rhombic patterns) alongside each other, a fitting design for an ornament that is so central to mortuary ceremonies.