A sculpture of a naga, a dragon-snake that serves as a guardian spirit in many Southeast Asian cultures, is currently on view in the museum’s third-floor galleries. The naga is often represented with the features of several animals but always has a reptilian aspect, such as a snake-like body and scales, with a prominent mouth, usually wide open, and visible teeth. This early 20th-century example comes from the eastern Indonesian island of Alor, where it was integrated into village life. Carved wooden images like this one are displayed near temples or ritual dancing places and receive regular offerings of food. Though believed to bring prosperity and health to the community, this spirit also requires respectful attention. If neglected, it will bring illness, bad luck, and a poor harvest.

Ruth Barnes 
The Thomas Jaffe Curator of Indo-Pacific Art

Carved wooden sculpture with a snake-like body and scales.

Dragon-Snake (Naga), Indonesia, Alor, early 20th century. Wood with pigments. Yale University Art Gallery, Promised gift of Thomas Jaffe, B.A. 1971

Watch the Videos

View a children’s story about the dragon-snake in English and Spanish.