The island of Timor is currently divided into Indonesia in the west and the country of East Timor as the Indonesian government was never able to unify the island. Historically it had 11 languages and for centuries the Dutch and Portuguese fought to control it. Today 90% of Timorese are Christian although tribal Timorese originally believed in animism which still underlies their Christian beliefs. Carved ancestor masks and effigies traditionally were used in ritual offerings for the departed to occupy and to have a resting place for their village visits.
The religion of Timor has been described by Jean Paul Barbier as ritual exchanges between individuals or social groups with their ancestral ghosts and fertility spirits. Timorese believe they have a 2-part identity with a sacred element (the soul) and a secular portion (the body) balancing each other and functioning as one, like their belief in a dual order in the universe with the sky being linked to a male deity and the earth to a female. Although this order can be upset by malevolent forces, sickness, infertility, and other problems, all are explained by the failure of the living to make suitable sacrifices to ancestral spirits. The departed protect and influence the behavior and prosperity of their descendants as long as they are honored properly. As deceased spirits crave betel nut, palm wine and food in the afterlife and affect fertility on earth, there is a close reciprocal link between the deceased and the secular world, as ancestors need sustenance and humans want health and offspring. Besides masks, descendants are obliged to carve ancestor effigies for departed souls to occupy and rest in during their village visits. Household ceremonies are performed in a room known as “the womb” where a pillar supports beams rising up to the roof struts that have the symbolic function of an axis mundi (the center of the world, world tree or cosmic axis) acting as the connection between heaven and earth and said to be a conduit to ancestral ghosts watching over the house. The pillar often also holds a house altar above the floor, usually a simple wooden shelf holding religious artifacts, protective fetishes and charms that ward off evil. Masks, effigies, and fetish objects are protective and magic objects used throughout Indonesian island art in what has been called by Jean Paul Barbier “the ritual manipulation of fate.”

Jean Paul Barbier, Indonesian Primitive Art: Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines from the Collection of the Barbier-Müller Museum, Geneva, Dallas, Dallas Museum of Art,1984.

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  • Vintage Spirit Ancestor Mask with Hair, Indonesia, Timor (1211YKM) $495

    H: 12.5″  W: 8.625″  D: 2.75″ | FREE SHIPPING!

    Timor masks like this are rare and characterized by large roughly cut eyes, the absence of some teeth and the remaining ones being menacing. They are stored in the rafters above the house hearth accounting for their smoky black color. Often decorated with animal hide with hair, the facial pieces have either not darkened fully in the rafters or, when placed on top of each other, did not darken evenly. Frequently a bit threatening due to the black color, missing teeth and their frequent lack of balance, these ancestral masks are used in offering rituals designed to drive off malevolent spirits.

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