Balancing The Universe: Shamanism in the Mentawai Islands, Indonesia

The Mentawai tribes remain one of the most isolated populations on the planet. Some still live a neolithic, hunter-gather lifestyle in the rain-forest and do not use a written language. Shaman, or sikerei, are intrinsic to daily life and considered leaders, although they are an egalitarian society. The classic Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim themes common to most of Indonesia are not part of the Mentawai belief system which is wholly based in nature. In their philosophy, objects are not things to be used, but rather things that can allow themselves to be used – as all things, including air and water, have spirits. This is reflected in their deeply symbolic decoration of objects as well as their characteristic body art. They adorn themselves with intricate spirit tattoos for protection, and practice tooth chiseling, to enhance physical and spiritual beauty. They believe they must keep their bodies beautiful so their spirits will be happy and not be tempted to leave. Their art is some of the most evocative and appealing of all the Indonesian cultures. 

Spirit Bird Boat Box, Mentawai Islands, Sumatra, Indonesia, Mentawai tribe, Early 20th c, Wood. Used by shaman to store powerful ritual and magic items associated with trance journeys and ceremonies. Kept in the shaman’s house. Boats are a common theme within this island culture. 7 ¾” x 30” x 7 ½”, $1100.
Spirit Bird Boat Box, Mentawai Islands, Sumatra, Indonesia, Mentawai tribe,
Early 20th c, Wood

Used by shaman to store powerful ritual and magic items associated with trance journeys and ceremonies. Kept in the shaman’s house. Boats are a common theme within this island culture. 7 ¾” x 30” x 7 ½”, $1100.

'Salipa', Medicine Boat Box, Mentawai Islands, Sumatra, Indonesia, Mentawai tribe, Early 20th c, Wood with reed stitching and strap. Used by shaman to store implements to be used when called upon to convene with spirit world. 8” x 26” x 5 ¾”, $1100.
‘Salipa’, Medicine Boat Box, Mentawai Islands, Sumatra, Indonesia, Mentawai tribe, Early 20th c, Wood with reed stitching and strap

Used by shaman to store implements to be used when called upon to convene with spirit world. 8” x 26” x 5 ¾”, $1100.

God Effigy (rare), Mentawai Islands, Sumatra, Indonesia, Mentawai tribe, 19th c, Wood. Used as a symbol to pray to. 15 ½” x 3 ½” x 6”, $1600.
God Effigy (rare), Mentawai Islands, Sumatra, Indonesia, Mentawai tribe, 19th c, Wood

Used as a symbol to pray to. 15 ½” x 3 ½” x 6”, $1600.

Shaman Kit, Mentawai,Islands, Sumatra, Indonesia, Mentawai tribe Early to mid 20th c, Case: sago palm leaf box, braided rattan. Raffia wand handle and headband, feathers, European glass trade beads, cotton trade cloth, wood, bronze bell. Contents: costume (loincloth, jewelry, head gear) and wands All items have a specific purpose - example: the beaded headband acts like antenna attracting spirits the shaman needs to contact, 5” x 8 ½” x 23 ½”, $3600.
Shaman Kit Contents, Mentawai,Islands, Sumatra, Indonesia, Mentawai tribe
Early to mid 20th c, Case: sago palm leaf box, braided rattan. Raffia wand handle and headband, feathers, European glass trade beads, cotton trade cloth, wood, bronze bell

Contents: costume (loincloth, jewelry, head gear) and wands. All items have a specific purpose – example: the beaded headband acts like antenna attracting spirits the shaman needs to contact, 5” x 8 ½” x 23 ½”, $3600. (See closed box in image below)

Shaman Kit Box, Mentawai Islands, Sumatra, Indonesia, Mentawai tribe Early to mid 20th c, Case: sago palm leaf box, braided rattan
Shaman Kit Box, Mentawai Islands, Sumatra, Indonesia, Mentawai tribe. Early to mid 20th c, Case: sago palm leaf box, braided rattan
Shaman Kit Box Contents, Mentawai Islands, Sumatra, Indonesia, Mentawai tribe Early to mid 20th c, Case: sago palm leaf box, braided rattan, Raffia wand handle and headband, feathers, European glass trade beads, cotton trade cloth, wood, bronze bell. Contents: costume (loincloth, jewelry, head gear) and wands. All items have a specific purpose - example: the beaded headband acts like antenna attracting spirits the shaman needs to contact. 5 ½” x 7 ½” x 30 ½” $3600.
Shaman Kit Box Contents, Mentawai Islands, Sumatra, Indonesia, Mentawai tribe
Early to mid 20th c, Case: sago palm leaf box, braided rattan, Raffia wand handle and headband, feathers, European glass trade beads, cotton trade cloth, wood, bronze bell

Contents: costume (loincloth, jewelry, head gear) and wands. All items have a specific purpose – example: the beaded headband acts like antenna attracting spirits the shaman needs to contact. 5 ½” x 7 ½” x 30 ½”, $3600.

Shaman's Wands, Mentawai Islands, Sumatra, Indonesia, Mentawai tribe, Mid 20th c. Wood. Ritual zoomorphic amulets used in healing rituals. Dimesnisons: Left and Middle (right is Batak) (left, pigmented with soot - 2” x 7 ¾” x ¾”, $95); (middle - 2” x 7 ½” x 1”, $110.)
Shaman’s Wands, Mentawai Islands, Sumatra, Indonesia,
Mentawai tribe, Mid 20th c. Wood

Ritual zoomorphic amulets used in healing rituals. Dimesnisons: Left and Middle (right is Batak) (left, pigmented with soot – 2” x 7 ¾” x ¾”, $95); (middle – 2” x 7 ½” x 1”, $110.) (see detail in image below)

Shaman's Wand, Mentawai Islands, Sumatra, Indonesia, Mentawai tribe, Mid 20th c. Wood pigmented with soot Ritual zoomorphic amulet for healing rituals. 2” x 7 ½” x 1”, $110.
Shaman’s Wand (detail from previous image)
'Jaraik' Fetish Panel, Indonesia, Sumatra, Mentawai, Early to mid 20th c, Wood, macaque skulls, rattan. Usually found on the inner entrance of house. Made at the time the house is built and is protection for the inhabitants. A ritual hunt for a male bokkoi (macaque) monkey. its function is to both ward off evil spirits and to attract benevolent ones. The monkey plays a significant role in the protection by symbolically floating in the womb of the nature spirit. The carving is representative of a Tree of Life motif. And is also a symbol for the human soul after liberation from the physical body.
‘Jaraik’ Fetish Panel, Indonesia, Sumatra, Mentawai, Early to mid 20th c, Wood, macaque skulls, rattan

Usually found on the inner entrance of house. Made at the time the house is built and is protection for the inhabitants. A ritual hunt for a male bokkoi (macaque) monkey. its function is to both ward off evil spirits and to attract benevolent ones. The monkey plays a significant role in the protection by symbolically floating in the womb of the nature spirit. The carving is representative of a Tree of Life motif. And is also a symbol for the human soul after liberation from the physical body.

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