Rare Cast Brass Medicine Ring Inlaid with Copper & Iron
Batak People, North Sumatra, Indonesia
diameter at widest point: 5cm, weight: 70g
This fine ring from the Batak people of north Sumatra is cast in brass using the lost wax process and then further engraved.
Medicine rings probably were only worn by people capable of lapsing into a trance or who could be possessed by the spirit of an ancestor during religious ceremonies (Sibeth, 2012, p. 125).
More typical Batak medicine rings are cast with six uniform hemispheres about the hoop. This example has been cast with four and in place of the other two is a prominent, engraved
singa (lion) head motif. One of the hemispheres has been cast to suggest it is being disgorged from the singa’s mouth.
The pupils of the
singa have been inlaid with iron around which there are prominent engraved radial patterns. The tops of the hemispheres alternate between being inlaid with one and then two roundels of copper. The single roundels are engraved with sun-burst motifs.
The ring has been cast with a stylised head of a
singa (lion), a motif often seen among traditional Batak artforms.
The ring has a fine patina and plenty of wear. It is readily attributable to the nineteenth century. An old collection number is visible to the interior of the hoop.
A related example is illustrated in Sibeth (2102, p. 124) and another in van Cutsem (2000, p. 179).
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.
van Cutsem, A., A World of Rings: Africa, Asia, America, Skira, 2000.
Gold, Silver & Brass: Jewellery of the Batak in Sumatra, Indonesia, 2012.
Private Collection, Germany, acquired 1960-81
Inventory no.: 1863