Pair of Large Architectural Singa or Gajah Dompak House Facade Elements
Batak people, Lake Toba District, North Sumatra, Indonesia
late 19th century
both approx. height: 106cm, width: 35cm
These two large architectural ornaments of carved, painted wood, are from the facade of a traditional house (rumah adat) of a wealthy or distinguished Toba Batak. They are in the form of a mythical creature that has both lion (singa) and elephant (gajah) elements. Such wooden ornaments were used to decorate the ends of the sidebeams (pandingdingan) and generally had a protective function warding off evil forces.
They are painted in the three traditional, natural colours used by the Toba Batak to decorate such ornaments: red, white and black. According to Sibeth (1991) these three colours have immense symbolism for the Toba Batak. They represent the three spheres of the cosmos but also the three supports of the family system (
dalihan na tolu) – the three kinship groups which are which are of enormous importance to each individual. The three colours also were used to decorate many ritual objects and objects used by the magician-priests (guru or datu). The red was obtained from red earth (batu hula) which was pounded fine with lime and mixed with resin as a binding medium. Some sources suggest that the blood of killed enemies also was added to this mixture. White was obtained from lime which was mixed with resin, and black was obtained from charcoal which was similarly mixed.Singa or gajah dompak heads of this form are illustrated in Sibeth (1991, pp. 120-121), Sibeth (2000, p. 53), Sibeth & Carpenter (2007, various), ter Keurs (2008, p. 77), Maxwell (2010, p. 9), and Brinkgreve & Sulistianingsih (2009, p. 133)
The Batak are an ethnic group whose ancestral land is in northern Sumatra. 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.
Sibeth, A., The Batak: Peoples of Island Sumatra, Thames & Hudson, 1991.
Batak: Kunst aus Sumatra, Museum fur Volkerkunde, 2000.
Sibeth, A., & B. Carpenter,
Batak Sculpture, Editions Didier Millet, 2007.
ter Keurs, P.
et al, Au Nord de Sumatra: Les Batak, Musee du Quai Branly, 5 Continents, 2008.
Brinkgreve F, & R. Sulistianingsih (eds),
Sumatra: Crossroads of Cultures, KITLV Press, 2009.
Life, Death & Magic: 2000 Years of Southeast Asian Ancestral Art, National Gallery of Australia, 2010.
UK art market
Inventory no.: 1785