Brian Stephenson Fine Art

Indonesian Tribal Art
Sumba Grave Effigy

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Megalithic Sumba Island stone grave effigy or Penji with horrific skeletal gaze


Item-Description:Megalithic Sumba Island stone grave effigy or Penji with horrific skeletal gaze
Medium:Fine calciferous volcanic tuff
Origin:Lesser Sunda Islands - Sumba
Dimensions:Height 103 cm
Age:c. 1000 AD
Provenance:Field collected Sumba Island 1984
Condition:Weathered patina, but in excellent preserved condition, no repairs
Notes:Sumba Island has maintained a megalithic tradition from the Neolithic times to the present day and is one of the few remaining truly megalithic cultures. Sumba Island Nobility and those of wealth still use megalithic stone slabs to construct mausoleums which are then adorned with headstones (penji), stone memorials of human form or with carvings of foliage, animals, sea or other mythical creatures, to symbolise their noble birth. Funerals can be delayed for decades with the bodies of the deceased kept in the houses of the living until enough wealth has been accumulated to perform the necessary rites and the slaughter of sufficient buffalo, cows or pigs.

This is an example of a very rare and unusual Sumba Island penji or headstone, in human form and of considerable age (probably from 500 to perhaps even 1000 years old as indicated by its natural weathering), carved in calciferous volcanic tuff.

The figure displays in a typical “hunkered” pose, has a frightening skeletal gaze (indicating probably that the figure was carved to frighten away evil spirits), arm and ankle bands, a prominent phallus and typical Sumba Island neck adornment. A very well preserved and collectable penji!

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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