Carved female ancestor figure (tau tau)

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from Tana Toraja region of South Sulawesi, Indonesia

Postcard of Carved female ancestor figure (tau tau).
© National Museums Scotland

Carved female ancestor figure (tau tau)

Tau tau figures from South Sulawesi are representations of wealthy people who have died. Life size, and dressed in the deceased's clothes, they are set up in galleries in front of the cliff-side graves of the dead, to oversee the living below.

This incomplete wooden figure is of a woman. It lacks its arms, headdress and clothes, but has sets of anklets. It is painted white and has a removable head. In this image the figure is shown straight on.

The ancestors, and marking one's status, are important to the people of the Tana Toraja region. Those who are rich enough arrange for these figures to be made. They are also given elaborate and expensive funerals, with the tau tau presiding.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-180-000-796-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0504: National Museums Scotland Part 2
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  A.1980.639 A
Date: Probably 20th century
Dimensions: 530 mm x 200 mm
What: Head, female figure's
Subject: Miscellaneous
Where: Indonesia, Sulawesi
Description: Separate moveable head for a carved wooden female figure: Indonesian, Celebes, Toradja people
  • Sheridan, J A (ed). Heaven and Hell and Other Worlds of the Dead. Edinburgh: National Museum of Scotland, 2000. 
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