Ancestor Figure (IF012)

Description of item:














































Ancestor figure from East-Timor; carved hardwood with nice patina; from Oecusse; dates c.1850’s.


Height: 28 cm (11 inches)

​Depth: 11 cm (4.3 inches)

​Width: 11 cm (4.3 inches)


The people of Timor-Leste believe the world is inhabited by a multitude of good and evil spirits, who, if looked after well, will protect the living. Ancestor images formed important links between living and the dead. They were of two (2) broad types: large figures depicting founding ancestors, seated atop tall pillars and smaller figures depicting deceased family members, which were kept at home. Ancestor figures were put in special places within the house or used to mark the graves of deceased relatives. Homage was paid to these ancestors by offering them food, wine, tobacco and betel nut – all the necessities and comforts of life. The pose of the figure indicates the gender of the deceased family member: both sexes are shown seated, but whilst the male ancestors are portrayed with the legs drawn in to the body and with the elbows resting on the bent knees, female ancestors like this item, are depicted with the legs crossed.


Although today many people of Timor-Leste are Christians and religious figurines are respected, some Timorese people still practise animist beliefs and continue to respect their human ancestors.


‘From the Hands of our Ancestors – The art and craft of Timor-Leste’, a joint exhibition presented by the Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory in partnership with the National Directorate of Culture, Timor-Leste (2002).

​Kjellgren, E. ‘Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’, (2007:247).


Private Australian collection.



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