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Priest’s Staff (Tunggal Panaluan)

One of the most visible accouterments of a datu, a powerful male ritual specialist trained in divination, healing, and sorcery among the Toba Batak, was a staff such as this, which he kept on behalf of the community and used in ceremonies intended to protect it, as well as in divination and in rites intended to bring rain. The stacked figures on this staff may refer to a Batak myth that says that the first staff was carved from a tree that had trapped and embedded in its wood a brother, a sister, priests, and animals. The turban on the top figure contains the spiritually charged ingredients that were believed to make the staff effective.

Batak peoples (Toba subgroup), Sumatra, Indonesia
Priest’s Staff (Tunggal Panaluan), detail
Early 20th century (?)
Wood, hair, fiber
H. 72 ¾ in. (184.8 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 73.44.1