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Puppet Head Si Gale Gale


Northern Sumatra
Batak Toba
Wood, paint
29 × 16 × 17 cm
Inv.TO.15.001

The Toba Batak people of northern Sumatra have a unique tradition of sophisticated puppets, which played a crucial role in some funerary ceremonies. The present head once formed part of a near-lifesized puppet controlled by a complex system of internal strings and levers that allow it to move in a lifelike manner. This head itself contains a complex internal mechanism controlled by strings, which allowed the figure to move the eyes and cry – through the use of wet moss or sponges kept inside the head and that could be squeezed – making possible for the figure to weep for the departed.

A similar specimen to this is conserved in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, inv. 1987.453.6). Both puppet heads are comparable in the manner of representation of the facial features, suggesting the work of two excellent sculptors of the same school.

This puppet head is notable for its expressive quality as it may be seen on few specimen of the first half of 19th century.

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