Ancestral Figure, Maluku Tenggara, Leti Islands, Indonesia
height 23in (58.4cm)
Private Collection, England, acquired in the early 20th Century
Thence by descent
"Throughout the islands of Maluku Tenggara in eastern Indonesia, ancestor images indicated important links between the living and the dead. Small seated ancestor figures depicted deceased family members and were kept and used within the home. The present image (like the present work) is likely from Leti Island, where such images were called yene. Each depicted a specific recently deceased individual and served as a vessel in which his or her spirit resided temporarily before departing for the land of the dead and to which it periodically returned to receive offerings or be consulted about important matters. On Leti, the pose of yene indicated the gender and status of the deceased. Male ancestors were shown seated with the legs drawn in to the body, and female ancestors were depicted with the legs crossed. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, WEB, nd, 2013).
"Traditional Leti religion paid homage to the male sun god and a female earth goddess. For periodic fertility rituals, newly carved altars were erected in the middle of the village and the altars were carved of a special hardwood. The figures representing ancestors were placed on the posts in a squatting position. The posts were placed on a platform high above the worshiping villagers. From about 1820, the Protestant church established missions across the Leti islands from the regional capital of Ambon. During subsequent years, many ancestral figures and altars were burned." (Taylor and Aragon, 1991: p. 223).