Rare Islamic Sufi Dabus Implement
possibly Cirebon, West Java, Indonesia
circa 18th century
This implement comprises a finely forged iron spike attached to a bud-like wooden block from which twelve iron chains are suspended, one of which ends with a flat iron segment in the shape of a tiger’s claw. A round metal plate is nailed to the top of the wooden block.
It is an item used by Sufi dervishes as part of their ritual displays in public places of acts of bravery whereby their faith supposedly stops them from coming to harm. In one ritual, a dervish lies flat and another takes an iron spike which is then hammered into the navel of the resting dervish without him apparently being harmed.
dabus was the term used to refer to a dervish, and dabus groups wandered from place to place performing acts of faith.
Kraton (Palace) Kaspuhan Museum in Cirebon, West Java, Indonesia has in its collection a variety of dabus implements, some of which are illustrated in Bennett (2005, p. 132). The example here is very similar to these.
This example has very obvious age. The iron and wood have clear patina; the wood block is festooned with old worm holes and chips. The item clearly has seen much ritual use, and yet it is decorative, stable and a fascinating curio.
Bennett, J., et al., Crescent Moon: Islamic Art & Civilisation in Southeast Asia, Art Gallery of South Australia, 2005.
Inventory no.: 1566