Shaman's Ceremonial Staff, Toba Peoples, Batak, North Sumatra
Wood, brass, horse hair
length 60 1/8in (152.7cm)
Ami Brown, Tel Aviv and New York, former consul general to Los Angeles, Director of Coca-Cola Israel and was one of the foremost art collectors in Israel.
Private Collection, New York
The present work is carved in relief with twelve human figures, two figures holding severed heads, with incised snakes, lizards, insects, turtles, etc., with notches on staff ridge, eyes inlaid with brass and horse hair inset on top; glossy and encrusted varied black-brown patina, the pupuk or brain matter material is now missing in the top area, where the lighter patina is visible.
According to Jean Paul Barbier-Muller, Arts of African and Oceania: Highlights from the Musée Barbier-Muller, (2007) p. 263: "According to the book of magic in the Tropen museum in Amsterdam, the pupuk was prepared from various substances including the viscera and brain of a 'toothless human being' into an orifice--although elderly Toba all say they would have been those of a two- to eight-year-old child seized from an enemy clan."
"Elaborately carved wooden staffs are the most important tools of Batak priests. 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." - National Gallery of Australia