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Loan Object
Photo by Johan Vipper
Photo credit: Johan Vipper

Top of a Priest’s Staff (Tunggal Panaluan)

19th century

Wood with cord and feathers

Including feathers: 31 × 5 × 20 cm (12 3/16 × 1 15/16 × 7 7/8 in.) base: 8.8 × 5 × 10 cm (3 7/16 × 1 15/16 × 3 15/16 in.)
Promised gift of Thomas Jaffe, B.A. 1971

Batak magic staffs are carved from hardwood, which gains a deep patina from repeated anointment with eggs, animal blood, and palm wine during rituals. The top of the staff may include cotton, feathers, sugar-palm fibers, seeds, various textiles (usually in the Batak sacred colors of black, white, and red), and human or animal hair. A series of human and animal figures are stacked vertically along the shaft, with a female figure followed by a male figure at top. The animals include buffalos, horses, elephants, dogs, snakes, lizards, and crocodiles. The entire staff is made of a single piece of wood. The staff was part of the priest’s iden­tity and an extension of his magical pow­ers. The staff’s power would have been animated by the insertion of a magical substance into the wrappings at the top. Once the ritual was performed, the staff was thought to have come to life, and it became an object both to be nurtured and feared.


The Batak of northern Sumatra comprise six groups: the Toba, Mandaling, Angkola, Pakpak/Dairi, Simalingun, and Karo. All share a common origin myth and ancestor (Si Raja Batak), have similar kinship and marriage customs, employ a common language and script, and emphasize certain ritual practices. Until the mid-twentieth century, political power was in the hands of chiefs and the council of elders, while spiritual power resided with the priest (datu), who had great influence on Batak life.

Made in Sumatra, Indonesia
On view*
Toba Batak
19th century

Ex-collection: A. Chaberman, Brussels

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.