Container for Magical Substances (Naga Morsarang)

Container for Magical Substances
Container for Magical Substances (Naga Morsarang), 19th–early 20th century
Toba Batak people, Sumatra, Indonesia
Water buffalo horn, wood

L. 20 1/2 in. (52.1 cm)
Gift of Fred and Rita Richman, 1987 (1987.453.1)

The Toba Batak people of northern Sumatra are especially notable for the abundance and variety of their ritual arts. In the past, the primary religious figures in Toba Batak society were datu, male religious specialists who acted as intermediaries between the human and supernatural worlds. Much of Toba Batak sacred art centered on the creation and adornment of the paraphernalia used by the datu in ritual contexts such as divination, curing ceremonies, or malevolent magic. The datu employed a variety of containers made of different materials to hold the supernaturally powerful substances used in rituals and other ceremonial contexts. The type of container seen here, known as a naga morsarang, is fashioned from the hollow horn of a water buffalo.

The tip of the horn is carved in the form of a seated human figure. The wider, open end is plugged with an elaborate wood stopper that depicts a singa (a fantastic creature that served as a supernatural protector) with four human figures riding on its back. These human images possibly represent the succession of ritual masters who preceded the datu who owned the container or figures from local oral tradition.

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