Silver & Ivory Hilt Piso Gading Sword
Toba Batak People, North Sumatra, Indonesia
This splendid sword known as a piso gading among the Batak people of the Lake Toba district of north Sumatra, has a long, narrow steel blade with a single groove and which ends with a sharp point. The back is slightly concave. Possibly, the blade is European, which is not unusual for north Sumatran blades.
The hilt is of ivory carved with nine facets giving it a nine-pointed star shape cross section. The ivory has the most splendid, rich red patina. A carved buffalo horn collar sits just beneath the ivory hilt and this too has nine points. The darkness of the horn provides a pleasing contrast wit the reddish hue of the ivory.
The scabbard is of wood encased in hammered sheet silver. The top and mid-section each have a band of variously plaited silver wire. The chape ends with a flattened silver sphere chased with geometric patterns.
Related examples are illustrated in Sibeth (1991, p. 163-4), and Sibeth & Carpenter (2007, p. 256). Two examples published in the latter have ivory hilts with patinas almost as dark as the example here. The authors comment that the long, deep flutes of the hilts probably were to allow a better grip, and also that their dark patinas an high degree f wear suggest ‘immense age’.
The Batak are an ethnic group whose ancestral land is in northern Sumatra. In the past, they practiced ritual cannibalism. Today they number around four million and form one of Indonesia’s larger ethnic minorities. The spectacular volcanic Lake Toba (
Danau Toba) in north Sumatra is the ancestral home to the largest Batak group, the Toba Batak. The lake is the largest freshwater lake in Indonesia.
The sword is accompanied by a custom-made metallic stand. Overall, the relative simplicity of the silver scabbard, the deep patina of the ivory hilt, and the mounting of the stand, makes for a particularly attractive ensemble with excellent sculptural presence.
Sibeth, A., The Batak: Peoples of Island Sumatra, Thames & Hudson, 1991.
Sibeth, A., & B. Carpenter,
Batak Sculpture, Editions Didier Millet, 2007.
Van Zonneveld, A.,
Traditional Weapons of the Indonesian Archipelago, C. Zwartenkot Art Books, 2001.
Danish private collection
Inventory no.: 1848