Effigie-portrait d'un chef

Effigy-Portrait of a Chief

Effigies mejan of well-known figures, often with the joint roles of village chief (raja) and magician
(datu) were sculpted only by the South Pakpak (who probably invented them), the western Toba (the
rare ‘couples’ – horseman and seated woman – seen on Samosir Island are very late) and the Simalungun, where their appearance is very different to this one.

I did several field studies between 1974 and 1998
to identify certain styles specific to the magiciansculptors
(datu panggana) of the Pakpak, Simsim,
Pakpak Kalasan (previously unknown) and western
Toba subgroups. Stone equestrian portraits (mejan)
of chiefs are usually accompanied by portraits of
their wives, depicted seated, nude or, later, wearing
a sarong.

The man’s mount is often, as here, a singa, a mythological
monster representing a god of the subterranean
world, Raja Padoha (or Naga Padoha), a kind
of giant horned snake.
The flowing lines of this and the following sculpture
(the wife of this raja, whose rank is attested by her
armband) are specific to the mountainous region
between the coast and Pusuk, where the benzoin
and camphor, which once made the fortune of the
Barus, was produced since Antiquity. The style of
the highland Barus is incontestably derived from that of the Pakpak Kalasan, who are separated from
the Pakpak Simsim by a mountain range and interspersed
in the west Toba region. Their clans (less
than a dozen) were all founded by a chief from a
Toba clan.

Nevertheless, they claim (like the Pakpak
Simsim) to have received, some fifty generations
(four to five hundred years) ago, the teaching of an
elderly sage from India called Guru Kalasan, who
taught them to cremate their dead. Thus, instead of
the large sarcophagi containing bones of the Toba
and Simalungun, they have small urns for the ashes,
which are placed in front of equestrian statues,
many of which have disappeared. Sometimes the
mount is a horse or an elephant. Here, it is a singa,
recognisable by its long curved tongue, which some
early travellers mistook for a trunk.