Throughout the remote inland regions and isolated islands of Southeast Asia, ancestral religious traditions have continued well into the twentieth century. Combining the veneration of ancestors with beliefs in spirits of nature, the major religious and social events usually focus on the continuing prosperity of the community. The successful journey of the spirit of the deceased into the afterlife is one of the most important ways of ensuring ongoing good fortune, since the deified ancestors are thought to be involved, for better or worse, in the affairs of the living. Complex mortuary rites that celebrate and honour the dead provide the impetus for creating many fine objects.
Social hierarchy is very important among the Modang, and funeral rites to commemorate deceased members of high rank are elaborate. Superbly decorated mausoleums (salong), raised on wooden piles and covered with shingles, are constructed to house the remains of aristocrats after secondary burial ceremonies involving the exhumation and cleaning of the bones. This heavy panel, carved from a single piece of wood, formed the end wall of such a funerary vault. The menacing face is intended to ward off evil spirits and protect the ancestors.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008