The equestrian figure is a popular motif in Batak art and ritual that is associated with ancestral worship and a safe passage to the afterlife. A deviation on the horse motif is the ‘Singa’ which frequently replaces the horse as a mount of the ancestors. The word ‘Singa’ is derived from the Sanskrit meaning lion, yet in the Batak context the name refers to a composite mythological animal. The features of the ‘Singa’ are variable and can represent a combination of different animals including the snake, elephant, lizard, horse and buffalo. Carved ‘Singa’ stoppers like this object were made to protect the contents of containers made from an eclectic array of materials, including wood, ivory, gourd and ceramics. Imported ceramics were probably acquired by the Batak on the east coast of Sumatra and traded for a number of locally sourced commodities including ivory, wax, cotton or tobacco. The containers known amongst the Batak as ‘guriguri’ were used to store talismanic mixtures known as ‘pukpuk’. The ‘Datu’, or spiritual leader of the community would apply the mixtures ritualistically to objects and people to imbue them with protective properties and pacify the ancestors.
Asian Art Department, AGNSW, January 2014