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Asian art

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Ammunition holder (paru-paru)

late 19th century-early 20th century


Unknown Artist


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.


Other Title

Musket ball holder

Place where the work was made

North Sumatra Indonesia

Cultural origin

Karo Batak


late 19th century-early 20th century

Media category

Arms & armour

Materials used

buffalo horn


15.5 x 4 x 3.8 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


Christopher Wilson, pre Nov 1986-1996, Sydney/New South Wales/Australia, probably purchased on Samosir, Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia mid 1970s or late 1980s. Appears in 'Southeast Asian tribal art', an unpublished text by Christopher Wilson, College of Fine Arts, Sydney, November 1986.

Mariann Ford, 1996-Dec 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


Niki van den Heuvel, Ancestral art of the Indonesian archipelago, Sydney, 2017, 69 (colour illus.).

Christopher Wilson, Southeast Asian Tribal Art, Nov 1986, Plate 22 (colour illus.) unpaginated..