Estimated age: 19th century or earlier
H: 194 cm (approx. 6’ 4”)
Provenance: Old Dutch collection; Austrian private collection
The Dayak are the native people of Kalimantan. It is a loose term for over 200 riverine and hill-dwelling ethnic subgroups, located principally in the central and southern interior of Kalimantan, each with its own dialect, customs, laws, territory, and culture, although common distinguishing traits are readily identifiable. The living may reserve the right to call on the spirits of the dead ? for instance to help a new spirit journey to the village of the dead. They keep the skulls of the ancient dead at hand for these occasions, usually in the house attic.
The funeral rites call on the spirits to descend into the skulls. The wooden coffins (lungun), sometimes with a double casket, may be kept in the house for up to 16 days for high aristocrats. It is often beautifully carved in the shape of a hornbill, a boat, or a crocodile, like in this example. The so-called Berusun people are a subgroup of the Dayak, who live in East Kalimantan. A nicely carved crocodile with two blue pearl eyes and a very elaborate long tail looking to a lizard-shaped face, most likely protecting the ancestor or its soul. Such sculpted coffin lids from the Berunsun Dayaks are extremely rare.