Pierre Nachbaur

Heirloom storage Lidded Box with sacred motifs

This beautiful wooden box would have been used by an aristocrat of either the closely related Nage or Ngadu tribe of Flores Island to carry valuables. These could include heirloom gold jewellery, coins or even perhaps small copper alloy ancestor statuettes. It is fitted with holes on the sides of the top and bottom for the insertion of now missing cords that would allow it to be carried on the shoulder like a purse. There is also a visible hole in the front that would have been used for a peg to lock the box.

The wavy form of the lid is of great interest as they are related to shapes of the traditional roofs. The continuation of this on the lower part gives the impression of an almost zoomorphic figure in motion. Decorations on the lid include a wavy snake, a sacred animal of great importance in the ritual and religion of the region, and a zigzag pattern first seen in the Indonesian Bronze Age.

The larger bottom features a framed four-sided flanged lozenge divided in half. Such abstract motifs, also seen in textiles, may have originated in flora and fauna and are always connected to symbolic beliefs. The frame is surrounded by rows of four petaled flowers that may be stylized lotus flowers - a lingering influence from early indirect Hindu-Buddhist contact via trade goods from Hindu-Buddhist Jave dating back as far as the Majapahit period (late 13th-early 15th centuries). The dark smooth patina suggests great age.

Image caption: From Central Flores Island, 18th century, made of wood.