Andre John Philip SydnorGretchen BenderHAA 1050: World Art:Contact and Conflict11 December 2017Abstract The artistic work I have selected is a hampatong figure inthe Metropolitan Museum of Art, originating from Borneo in South Asia. I initially cameacross artworks originating from Borneo in Ancient Echos: The Mark GordonCollection of Southeast Asian Indigenous Art by Mark Gordon. The art in the Borneo section of the bookconsisted of a wide variety of masks, dolls, and sculptures. I was immediately struck by the sense ofmonumentality, commemoration, and regal bearing of this particular hampatongfigure. Without knowing much about thehistory, culture, or art of this region I was intrigued by this object becauseI knew that something of its size and facture must have some cultural orreligious significance.
Hampatongfigures are wood carvings done by indigenous people – Dayak – in Borneo. The Ngaju and Ot Danum people carve hampatongfigures to personify ancestors and to protect the community from evils, amongother reasons. The work I haveselected is estimated to have been created in the 19th century by the Ngaju orOt Danum peoples; it is made of wood and stands at 71 inches tall, 12 incheswide, and 10.5 inches deep.  It is currently on display at TheMetropolitan Museum of Art. This work iswithin the scope of the project because I am unfamiliar with South Asianindigenous culture, and it is within the scope of the course because indigenouspeople are at odds with imperialists and settler colonialists, creating acontact zone.
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The purpose of thisproject is to visually analyze and contextualize this work using CliffordGeertz’s thick description as a theoretical framework. It is important to recognize that although attimes I use an authoritative tone, that I use such a strong modality because itenhances clarity for the reader; this is the first time I am learning aboutthis type of art, so the knowledge I have is strictly limited to the sources Iused. This is a hampatong figure withdeep, rich cultural background that is an essential attribute of the object,and in trying to describe this object, if I were to use a weaker modality, itwould become less clear what is going on with the object. Introduction Five hundred kilometers off the northwest coast of Indonesia,lies the World’s third largest island, Borneo. It is a mountainous country with richly biodiverse plant and animal lifeand lush forests. It is controlled by three nation states:Indonesia occupying the largest area, followed by Malaysia, and Brunei with theleast territory. Dayak is a general term used to describethe indigenous people originating from Borneo; the word originates from ‘daya’which means “upriver” or “toward the interior”. Indigenous people in Borneo inhabit all areasof the island, coastal and inland.
Thedichotomy of Dayak and Malay exists as an oversimplified method to separatevastly diverse groups of people into two mutually-exclusive categories: Muslimand non-Muslim indigenous groups. In aregion of the world where it is not possible to map all the groups or languagesspoken by the groups, it could be perceived as erasure to classify these peopleinto two groups because of the sheer size of the groups. While similarities exist between the groupswithin Dayak and Malay, they are separate and distinct; the issue of broadgeneralizations becomes much more prevalent when using such broadcategorizations.
Hampatong refers generally to the carved wood sculpturesrepresentative of humans, gods, or animals created by the Dayak. The Ngaju tribe is the most populous group ofthe Dayak with 890,000 people. While Ngaju is the group pinned with thecreation of the hampatong figure explored in this paper, identifying who madethis and where it comes from is much more complex than it seems. Although experts say with some degree ofcertainty that the piece originates from the Ngaju people, the muselogicalisolation of this object removed it from its original location, essential to determiningits original function.Controversy in ClassificationManycategories of hampatong figures exist, but this paper only focuses on threetypes: tajahan, pataho, and sapandu. Inthis section I juxtapose the way in which two scholars, Eric Kjellgren andPaulo Majullari, categorize hampatong figures.
Eric Kjellgren BIO. The hampatongin the Metropolitan Museum of Art is usually considered to be a hampatongtajahan, used in this context to mean commemorating the dead. However, I would argue that this object shouldnot be classified as a hampatong tajahan, but rather a sapandu.
Eric Kjellgren along with other, usually morecontemporary art historians, categorize all large hampatong figures into twotypes: (1) tajahan: commemorating the dead and (2) pataho: guardian figureserected to protect the community. This dichotomy used to categorize largehampatong figures excludes the history, culture, tradition and ritual behindhampatong figures; it is ahistorical and the definitions themselves areincorrect. According to Majullari,hampatong tajahan act as the courthouse of the community. Inside the figure, a rock holds theterritorial spirit and represents the executive power. It is at the discretion of the village chiefwhen this form of justice is to be used: usually when it could be deemedimpossible to settle a dispute among community members. Evil spirits are constantly present in theplace where the hampatong tajahan stands. With this context of the history and ritual behind the hampatongtajahan, it becomes more clear that this likely does not accurately describethe hampatong in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Although, it becomes incredibly difficult todefinitively identify the exact type of hampatong figure without knowing thecontext of where the figure was originally located within the community.
Sapandu is a type of hampatong figure that isalways present in a traditional Dayak death ceremony called the tiwah; animalsare tied to this type of post and sacrificed. The tiwah is an extended burial feastrepresentative of liberation to paradise, deeply rooted in the kaharinganreligion where animals or slaves are sacrificed with the intention of their soulaccompanying the soul of the departed to the afterworld. This ritual is expensive in the money, time,and resources it requires, but it is absolutely essential within the religion;the number of sacrifices and the size and type of hampatong are dependent onthe importance within the community of the deceased person and the family’sfinancial means.
 The sapandu can come in three shapes: (1) apost with a small image on the top representing one or more deceased people,(2) for people of noble ancestry, and (3) direct representation of the dead. The figure in the Metropolitan Museum of Artcould be a commemorative figure of a noble person which is lies at theintersection of 2 and 3. These shapesare by no means mutually exclusive and can have a large degree of overlap. What leads me to believe this is not only thesize of it, seventy-one inches tall, twelve incheswide, and ten and one half inches diameter,but also the diadem – or crown on its head.
Additionally, the condition the wood is very good. There is a prominent split directly down thecenter of the body of the figure, however the rest of the wood is intact. Some splitting and cracks exist in the woodtowards the base of the object, but nothing major.
The wood used for a hampatong figure isspecial and distinct from regular wood. Beforecollecting the wood for a hampatong figure, everyone participating was required7 days of abstinence.A Distinct ObjectHampatongfigures in general are unique with a deep, rich culture and history, but thisspecific hampatong is distinct from others. The figure depicts what we can reasonable construe is a man, sitting ontop of a stool or chair with his hands on his knees. The fact that the man is shown sitting on achair or stool is unusual for hampatong figures originating from thisregion.
Since a great deal of the artoriginating from Borneo was created prior to manifestations of modernity,it was more common for figures to be depicted seated on the ground with theirknees tucked into their chest and arms wrapped around the knees. In fact, it is unusual to see a hampatongfigure that is in the seated position sitting on anything other than theground. Of the other hampatong figuresshown in the books and catalogues I used, this was the only hampatong figurewhich did not depict a person seated on the ground.
It separates this particular figure fromother figures of its kind. The fact thatthe man in this work is depicted seated on a stool or chair is one indicationthat the figure depicts someone of nobility. Additionally,the figure is sitting on a stool on top of a ceramic trade jar – a tempayan –originating from China.
The jars werevery precious to the people of Borneo and were often attributed magicalqualities, especially in the middle of the island; they demarcated wealth andstatus and were often passed down as treasures to family. The jars originate from South China, Vietnam,and Thailand and were traded by the East Asians with the Dayak for forestproducts; they are used to hold drinking water and to prepare arak – fermentedrice beer – which is one of the major gifts given on the fifth day of the tiwah;they were also frequently used as burial vessels for important people. Since burial is seen as the most importantrite by much of Borneo’s indigenous groups, the fact that they used these jarsfor it demonstrates their importance in society. The jars stood as a symbol for metamorphosis,renewed and recycled life, and a process of transformation; not only in thecontext of their use in burial rites, but also the arak made in them. The arak undergoes transformation while inthe jar – it ferments.
The most valuableof tempayan were equivalent in value to a slave; if someone broke or stole ajar, he or she either had to replace it or become the slave of the owner. When used in art, tempayan can differentiatea high ranking person in the community from an enemy figure. Especially when jars are decorated with dragons,they symbolize high status. “Dragonjars” are the most prestigious and symbolize fertility. The trading of tempayan in Borneo is anexample of contact which did not result in conflict and was mutuallybeneficial.
Theadornment on top of the figure’s head could be indicative of the sex and statusof the person being represented. The object that crowns the figure’s head iscalled a diadem; it represents jewelry. It is something that demarcated high nobility from the generalpopulation. It could also be somethingthat was passed down to the family.Themood this figure creates is one that is calm and peaceful. “This figure’s tranquil naturalismdistinguishes it from other types of hampatong, which are often characterizedby such exaggerated features as bulging eyes or aggressively protrudingtongues.” This statement reflects on the features ofthis particular hampatong in relativity to other similar types of hampatong.
While there is an atmosphere of tranquility,the figure exerts a sense of authority and respectability. IsolationThisobject becomes difficult to interpret due to its museological isolation. This isolation severed the figure from itsoriginal context which gives insight into its functionality and utility. In the Controversy in Classification section Iget into some of the different types of hampatong figures, and it becomesevident just how important the original setting of the hampatong is indetermining its original intent and function was.
For example, hampatong pataho and hampatongtajahan have very different functions and locations in the community, but theactual hampatong figure could look similar. If the hampatong were isolated from its surroundings, it would be verydifficult to determine the type of hampatong figure it is. It is not necessarily important the type, perse, but more so the function it served and its purpose.  Maiullari, Paulo. “Hampatongs inthe Daily Life of the Ngaju Dayaks.”. Borneo Research Bulletin 35(2004): 102-120Kjellgren, Eric.
Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the MetropolitanMuseum of Art. Yale University Press, 2007. Wentholt, Arnold. “Coaxing the Spirits: Amulets, Charms, and MeasuringSticks.” In Dayak Amulets:Miniature Sculptures from Borneo, edited by Bruce Frank Primitve Art,2016. Maiullari 2004 Soriente, Antonia. “StudyingLinguistic and Cultural Contact in Borneo: Prospects and Challenges.” Anthropologia 1, no.
1 (2014): 59-81.Art, Dallas Museum of. Eyes of the Ancestors : The Arts of Island SoutheastAsia. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013. Kjellgren, 2007 Kjellgren, 2007 Maiullari, 2004 this word is uncapitalized in theliterature Maiullari, 2004 The preceding background context wasprovided by Maiullari, 2004 Kjellgren, 2007 Islands and Ancestors: IndigenousStyles of Southeast Asia. 1988.
 Soriente, 2014 The contextual information about the jaris provided by Islands and Ancestors: Indigenous Styles of Southeast Asia.1988. Ströber,Eva.
“The Collection of Chinese and Southeast Asian Jars (Martaban,Martavanen) at the Princessehof Museum, Leeuwarden, the Netherlands.” Kjellgren, 2014 Ströber Islands and Ancestors: IndigenousStyles of Southeast Asia. 1988. Kjellgren, 2014 Kjellgren, 2014