Wooden henta board

British Museum

British Museum

As in other parts of the Indian Ocean, many people in the Nicobar Islands are now Christian or Muslim. However, the inhabitants maintain many traditional rites, including elaborate ceremonies carried out to avert or overcome misfortune. Boards made of areca such as this nineteenth-century example were made in times of sickness. The engraved and painted details helped the ritual specialist to find the evil spirits. The boats, for example, enabled him to 'travel' along the coast and to other islands. The board would also serve to enlist the help of good spirits: fish, animals, and creatures such as mermaids. If the ritual was successful it was hung in the house to ensure the ailing person's future health. A hentakoi was invoked every new moon in order to retain its healing effect or (in some cases) its power to ward off malevolent spirits. The board was collected by E.H. Man, who worked for the colonial administration in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the 1880s and was interested in local life. Details on the board also provide us with information about life in the Nicobar Islands at this time: the different boats are reminders of the importance of maritime trade in the Indian Ocean; the houses depicted are the traditional beehive huts built on thick pillars, now increasingly replaced by flat-roofed concrete architecture. The economic life of the islanders in the nineteenth century relied on horticulture, animal husbandry, fishing and some hunting, all illustrated here in different ways.

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  • Title: Wooden henta board
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 169.50cm; Width: 140.50cm; Depth: 12.00cm; Weight: 13.70kg
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: painted; incised
  • Registration number: As1972,Q.2684
  • Place: Found/Acquired Nicobar Islands
  • Material: wood
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum