The Batak people of North Sumatra inhabit the mountainous interior region centring round Lake Toba. The lake and Samosir Island on the lake are at the heart of Batak activities and culture. Aside from the Toba Batak, the Batak identify themselves as belonging to five other distinct communities. The Pakpak live west of the lake, the Karo are north-west and the Simalungun are east of the lake. The Angkola and Mandailing Batak who do not share their borders with the lake are further south and in closer proximity to the Indian Ocean. Whilst the Batak have long maintained trading links with coastal communities, especially along the Strait of Malacca,their relative isolation meant that they did not experience direct contact with Europeans until the mid 19th century when they were introduced to Christianity by Dutch missionaries. Whilst most Batak villagers converted to the new monotheistic religion they never entirely abandoned their pre-Christian animist cosmologies and as a result some interesting and syncretic religious practises were established.
Carved from buffalo horn and wood, this type of clip was used by Karo Batak warriors and hunters to hold round lead bullets. More generally
referred to as 'paru-paru', such accessories are also known in the Batak language as 'baba ni onggang' or ‘beak of the hornbill’, because of their avian appearance when viewed from the side. This example has a highly stylized human face with the body covered in delicate scrolls. The holes in the face would have held a fibre or horse hair, with the holes at the top sprouting horsehair and chicken feathers.
Musket ball holder
late 19th century-early 20th century
15.5 x 4 x 3.8 cm
Christopher Worrall Wilson Bequest 2010
Shown in 1 exhibition
Glorious, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 27 May 2017–06 Jan 2019