Asian Art
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Abung people Nobleman's throne of honour [pepadon] 15th century Place made: Lampung, Sumatra, Indonesia
Creation Notes: radio-carbon dated
Materials & Technique: sculptures, carved wood
Dimensions: 165.0 h x 173.0 w x 67.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1985
Accession No: NGA 85.1982.A-F
  • In Islamic kingship it was the obligation of great rulers to display magnanimity through the bestowal of status. From at least the sixteenth century, the Javanese sultanate of Banten established a system of granting titles to Lampung lords who provided much sought-after pepper for the international spice trade. The ‘seat of honour’ throne (pepadon) became the visual expression of these titles, which could also be inherited and purchased.

    Central to this bestowal system were extravagant feasts at which the chiefs sat on carved wooden thrones indicating their office or rank. The thrones were usually quite plain except for an elaborately carved backrest. This throne has been radiocarbon dated to the first half of the fifteenth century. The backrest shows a pair of stylised trees flanked by crowned guardian naga serpents. The tree motif is often associated with transition rites, especially change of status. The throne also features other mythical creatures including the protective demonic kala mask, with sharp fangs, at the juncture of the panels. Kala images are intended to ward off evil. Below the mask are two animals, possibly buffalo. A demonstration of rank and prosperity, the ritual slaughter of buffalo was a feature of the lavish banquets of the pepadon ceremonies.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

  • Thrones of honour (pepadon) are central to the great feasts of merit held in Lampung, south Sumatra, to celebrate wealth and rank. Prominent nobles sponsor elaborate and expensive feasts at which many buffalo are sacrificed in the quest for titles, higher status and indicators of power such as the right to use the pepadon.

    For centuries, thrones with ornate backs (sesako) have been carved from wood. Sesako display imagery from both the upper and lower realms, with snakes and serpents appearing with bird and tree motifs. The realistically portrayed human head at the apex of this sesako may depict the specific ancestor who commissioned the throne for his own feast.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2011
    From: Asian gallery extended display label