Brian Stephenson Fine Art

Indonesian Tribal Art
Nias Ancestor Figure

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Nias Island megalithic stone ancestor figure or Gowe Ni’oniha


Item-Description:Nias Island megalithic stone ancestor figure or Gowe Ni’oniha
Medium:Nias Limestone
Origin:Nias Island - Nias
Dimensions:Height 80 cm
Age:Archaic, pre-contact, possibly Late Neolithic period
Provenance:Collected West Nias 1984
Condition:Highly weathered but undamaged (no repairs)
Notes:Nias Island lies off the west cost of Northern Sumatra. It has been inhabited since Palaeolithic times, approximately 12,000 years BP. Its people (Ono Niha) are renowned for their unique culture, their architecture, their carving of ancestor figures in wood (Adu Zatua) but also and probably more importantly, for their monumental stone sculpture. Up to the end of the 19th century they were one of the few active megalithic cultures remaining in South East Asia.

Most megalithic sculpture is commemorative in nature, created to honour members of the nobility, a tradition inspired by the people’s strong belief in ancestor spirit worship. The megaliths can be very large, up to 3 meters in height. They are used to mark burial grounds or simply placed outside houses to commemorate deceased family members. Ones of human form are called Gowe Ni’oniha. Amongst collectors, the best known megaliths are the Osa-Osa, or ritual stone seats, previously used by nobles at important ceremonies. Gowe Ni’oniha, however, are much rarer.

This Gowe Ni’oniha collected from an abandoned site in West Nias, carved in Nias limestone, displays in a typical “hunkered” position with close set eyes, large nose, a “cut-off” chin, earring in the right ear, and with the typical Nias Kalabubu necklace. The weathering of the limestone indicates a considerable age, at least 500 to 1000 years, and this Gowe megalith could even be Late Neolithic in age.

Exhibited: Important Tribal Sculpture from Sumatra, Borneo and The Celebes, Sonoma County Museum, Santa Rosa, California, 1 October to 30 November, 1986.

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