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Asian art

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Female ancestral or protective figure (adu)

19th century


Unknown Artist


On the island of Nias, wooden images known as ‘adu’ are believed to provide a medium between the human world and that of the spirits, ancestors and gods. While female ‘adu’ sculptures do occur, they appear to be less prevalent than depictions of male ancestors and deities in hermaphroditic form, especially those depicting pregnant women. Among Nias societies, birth is considered a sacred and potentially dangerous act that takes place under the influence of deities and ancestors. With its prominent genitalia and rounded abdomen the figure may represent an ancestor who died with child or during labour. The absence of accoutrements associated with nobility may indicate the common status of the individual depicted. It is also possible, however, that the figure does not represent an ancestor but was a device to aid childbirth.


Other Title

Adu Horo (Protective figure)

Place where the work was made

North Nias North Sumatra Indonesia

Cultural origin



19th century

Materials used



65.5 x 14.5 x 15.0 cm


Christopher Worrall Wilson Bequest 2010


Not on display

Accession number


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

  • Glorious, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 27 May 2017–06 Jan 2019


William Downing Webster, pre 1896, England

Augustus Pitt-Rivers, Oct 1896, England, acquired from William D. Webster.

Christopher Wilson, 1990-1996, Sydney/New South Wales/Australia, purchased at Christie's, South Kensington, Tribal art sale, 2 October 1990, lot no. 17.

Mariann Ford, 1996-2010, Sydney/New South Wales/Australia, inherited from the estate of Christopher Wilson. Gift to the Art Gallery of New South Wales as part of the Christopher Worrall Wilson Bequest 2010.

Referenced in 2 publications


Christie's London (Editor), Tribal Art, South Kensington, 02 Oct 1990, 8-9 (illus.). lot no.17.

Niki van den Heuvel, Ancestral art of the Indonesian archipelago, Sydney, 2017, 29 (colour illus.).