Tau Tau Head (IF001)

Description of item:






























































Excellent museum display, hard wood, Trochus shell (Trochus niloticus) inlay; 1900’s.


Height: 43 cm (17 inches)

Width: 18 cm (7 inches)

Depth: 18 cm (7 inches)


The tau tau figures are believed to have originated in the 19th century. The Toraja ethnic group on South Sulawesi, Indonesia carved life-size images called tau-tau for use in funerary rituals held for high-ranking individuals to reflect the status and wealth of the deceased. The tau tau figures were representatives of the deceased, and functioned more as a portrait, ever-guarding the tombs and ever-protecting the living. They were placed at the entrance to cave tombs either sitting or standing or cut in the face of certain cliffs. These ancestral effigies were hoisted up the cliffs by means of bamboo scaffolds and then periodically taken down to be given new sets of clothes. The tau tau were made of nangka or jackfruit tree, which was harvested according to prescribed procedures. The figure’s head was carved from the top of the trunk. During each stage of the carving process there were ritual offerings and once the tau tau figure was finished, the procedure concluded with the slaughtering of pigs.


​In the early 1900’s, with the arrival of the Dutch Christian missionaries in Toraja, the production of tau tau was somewhat dampened. At the 1985 synod of Toraja Church in Palopo people debated if Protestant Toraja could have tau tau at their funerals. In the 1980’s, the wooden effigies became a target for grave robbers, sold to museums. Because Torajans believe that the dead can take their possessions with them to the afterlife, the effigies are usually equipped with small possessions. They were plundered along with the effigies. They were soon to be found in Jakarta, Europe and America; they were once even on display at the Smithsonian Institution in 1991. In response to this plunder of the ancestors, the Torajans hid their tau tau in various undisclosed locations.


Capistrano-Baker, F. H. ‘Art of Island Southeast Asia: The Fred and Rita Richman Collection’ (1994:87).

​Barbier, JP. ‘Indonesian Primitive Art: Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines: From the Collection of The Barbier-Müller Museum, Geneva’, (1984:108.)

​Feldman, J.A. ‘Ancestors in the Art of Nias, Indonesia’, (1985:26)


​Komang Ary Gallery, Bali, Indonesia



Copyright © 2014 TurzArt Tribal Gallery. All rights reserved

TurzArt Tribal Gallery (ABN 11 435 640 187); e: kt@turzart.com; m: +61 409 758 575