Head of a hornbill from a ceremonial chariot [rata]

Abung people19th century

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

In the Islamic cultures of Southeast Asia, the use of ceremonial vehicles was an important element of the ceremonies associated with rites of passage, such as circumcision and wedding festivities. The aristocracy of Lampung traditionally rode to ceremonies and festivals in distinctive wooden chariots, which sometimes took the form of flying creatures, including real and mythical birds. The recurring motif of the bird in ceremonies associated with the life cycle indicates its significant role as a key symbol of transition. It often represents the upper realms of the gods and deified ancestors who are invited to participate in the celebrations of the living.

This imposing head of the great hornbill would have been mounted on the front of such a carriage, possibly a bridal vehicle. Many important supernatural figures in Southeast Asian legends have assumed the form of the majestic hornbill, which is still found in many parts of the region. The hooks and heart-shaped double spirals on the head and around the base of the neck of this sculpture are recurring features in ancient Indonesian art, and are evident on prehistoric metalwork and painted pottery.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010

From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

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  • Title: Head of a hornbill from a ceremonial chariot [rata]
  • Creator: Abung people
  • Date Created: 19th century
  • Location: Lampung, Sumatra, Indonesia
  • Physical Dimensions: w240 x h1140 x d450 cm
  • Type: Sculpture,wood
  • Rights: Purchased 1984
  • External Link: National Gallery of Australia