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Nias Story - Master Carvers
By Bali Store / Monday,November 07, 2016

Better known by the name Ama Lis, which means “Father of Listivia”, who is his daughter and eldest child, Taradziduhu Rafael Manao has been close friends with Artyogi’s Indonesia Country Coordinator for over twenty-five years. He is a native of the majestic traditional village of Bawomataluo, where his ‘fit-as-a fiddle’ 93 year-old father is the seniormost village elder and leader of all adat (tradition-related) activities. Many of the members of their large, multi-generational extended family are active in the production of traditional wood carvings. Artyogi is proud and grateful to have the wisdom and diplomacy of these two South Niassan gentlemen onboard as members of our Indonesia team!

Nias Island is located in the Indian Ocean, some 125km from the western coastline of the vastly larger Indonesian Island of Sumatra. Although some intermarriage with members of the various indigenous tribes of Sumatra (Batak, Minangkabau, etc.) has occurred over the past two centuries, it is now commonly agreed by scholars that both the genealogy and the root language spoken by the Niassan people, prove that they are a mixed race that shares nothing in common with mainland populations of Sumatra. However, the exact origin of their ancestors continues to be debated.

The oldest megalithic stone gardens are found in Gomo District in Central Nias, dating back to before the 5th Century BC. These large and intricately-carved artifacts bear a strong resemblance to those of the Naga tribe in Khassi, Assam (Northeast India). Other artifacts, including agricultural tools that have been dated back to 10th Century AD, prove the metallurgical mastery of the ancient Niassans, a form of knowledge that was common to China during that same time period. It would appear that the people of Nias are of more than one origin; different waves of different people reached Nias in different centuries.
Unlike in most of mainland Sumatra, where the Dutch colonial government was firmly in control throughout the latter half of the 19th century, southern Nias only began to come under the control of the colonial administration in the early 20th century. The strongest resistance to both colonial rule and missionary activities in the region now called South Nias, came from an inter-village alliance that was dominated by the influential villages of Orahilli and Bawomataluo. Although not as technologically sophisticated as their Dutch adversaries, the small army of this traditionally militaristic and primarily ‘sword & spear wielding’ fiefdom, was able to maintain several platoons of musket-armed troops.

Sifatele musketeers of Bawomataluo pose for photographer

In several ways, today’s Bawomataluo Village continues represent the much glorified ‘peak’ of the now ‘much faded’ ancient culture of Nias; a belief system and way of life, which according to church missionaries and archeologists, was first established in Gomo (Central Nias) where the aforementioned megalithic stone gardens are found. 

Bawomataluo is the largest traditional village on Nias Island. It has the most impressive traditional architectural structures on Nias Island and, over the course of the past century, has continued to be successful in its efforts to maintain its influential position in local politics. The former ‘royal family’ of Bawomataluo was the driving force behind the ‘breakaway movement’, which in 2005  succeeded in it’s decades-long lobby to national government, to permit South Nias to become a fully-autonomous administrative district (now called South Nias Regency).

The combination of its impressive architecture together with the fact that it is the last remaining center of traditional woodcarving activity on Nias, have continued to make  today’s Bawomataluo Village the most popular tourist attraction on the island. 

Spirits of the Gods and Ancestors:
The indigenous population of Nias Island refer to themselves as, “Ono Niha”, which means, “We the People”. The central theme of their often slightly-varying traditional belief systems (which are now no longer being practiced anywhere on the island) was that the earth was the center of the universe and that there were levels both above and below it. These upper and lower worlds were inhabited by multiple gods who descended from a common lineage.  

The ‘common thread’ in the different versions of the myth of creation of the Ono Niha, which was  passed-on orally throughout the different populated areas of ancient Nias from one generation to the next , was Lowalangi/Lowalani. This clearly masculine, “Lord of the Upper World” was believed to be responsible for the creation of humankind, and in the version of the myth of creation that was passed-on amongst the inhabitants of Southern Nias, Lowalangi shared this all important feat, as well as many other life-sustaining and life-damaging tasks, with his sister-wife Silewe Nazarata (see background description of Adu Horo statue).

Lowalangi’s brother was named Laturedano and he was the, “Lord of the Underworld”. Also clearly masculine, Laturedano was believed to be holding up the earth and therefore, the god responsible for storms, earthquakes and natural disasters. In his 1917 classic work entitled, “Nias”, Schroeder noted that the South Niassans, who like all other cultural subgroups on Nias raised pigs for the purpose of ceremonially slaughtering them at the occasions of prestige-enhancing feasts, “believed all human beings were the pigs of Lowalangi and Laturedano”, who were generally treated well (page 476). However, on occasion the human pigs would be befallen with the grave misfortune of having their shadows being consumed by these two brother gods, or possibly a lesser god, which would then bring about misfortune, illness, or, perhaps even death. The only way for an individual (or sometimes an entire village community) to try and avoid such grave misfortunes, would be to slaughter their pigs in a ritualistic manner. If this slaughter had no effect, it was assumed that not enough pigs had been killed.

The Adu Statues:

Note: The literal translation of the word, “Adu” in the Niassan language into English is, “image”.

As a direct result of more than a century of active Christianization on Nias, most of the few remaining master Niassan woodcarvers, who are now only to be found in Bawomataluo Village, no longer fully understand the mythical origins, and often not even the exact names, of the different god and ancestor figure motifs they carve; the same name is often given to statues which are only similar in appearance. The ever-decreasing lack of indigenous knowledge in Bawomataluo Village, is because those few aged senior elders who still remember some of the ancestral history and ancient legends of the Ono Niha (which includes many of the true names and significance of the motifs of the “adu” ancestor statues) have been taught, and are constantly reminded by church missionaries, that it is best to not pass-on such sinful, traditional ‘pagan knowledge’ to younger generations. Ironically, it is those rather obscure publications of some of these same Christian missionaries that offer a wealth of meticulously-documented information about ancient Niassan legends and beliefs.

Over one and one-half centuries of meticulously-documented ethnological, anthropological and linguistics research on the origins of the Ono Niha, confirms that the carved wooden adu statues, which in the past could be found in every home and village, were believed by the people of Nias to be active manifestations of those gods who dwelled in the “Upper and Lower Worlds” (perceived as multi-layered ‘levels’ of the earth) or, of the spirits of their ancestors; both of whom the Ono Niha assumed to be ever-presently ‘standing-by’ and always ready to listen to the requests of their living descendants. 

According to South Niassan legend, the first thirty adus were the spirits of the children of the goddess Silewe Nazarata, whom she sent down to earth in the form of pieces of wood to help the first human ‘pigs’ during their times of great need. She instructed that these sacred pieces of wood be carved into the first adu statues, so that the good spirits of her children could be invoked to help her human pigs, who at that time being struck by a veritable plague of life-threatening illnesses. These illnesses were accepted to be the result of curses, which had been placed upon the Ono Niha by, “bekhu” (evil spirits). In traditional ancient Nias, it was commonly believed that a wide variety of evil spirits resided in those dangerous places that all Ono Niha were obliged to avoid. Places where these bekhu lived included: the jungle, river mouths, trees, predatory persons, the sea, and even, the air). The making of any adu statue required that that specific spirit be invoked in a series of ceremonies, each of which demanded the ritual slaughter of pigs.

The thirty pieces of wood that were carved into the first adu statues, had the function to provide the ‘human pigs’ of the gods (the Ono Niha) with a way to remain in contact with Lowalangi, Silewe Nazarata and Laturedano; as well as, with numerous other ancestral gods, and also the actual direct ancestors of an individual family or clan. When required, a particular spirit could be summoned by way of a ceremony that was carried out by the “Ere” priest of the village. The more sacrificial ceremonies an individual could afford to sponsor, the higher his status became within the social hierarchy of the village.

The Different Kinds of Statues Carved in Bawomataluo:

Unlike in ancient traditional times, in modern-day Bawomataluo Village, there is no longer any cultural obligation to carry out any specific ritual ceremony prior to the carving of a wooden statue; all statues made by local carvers are produced for their aesthetic value, either as works of art for collectors, or, as souvenirs sold to visiting tourists. Today only the highly-ornate coffins of traditional design that are carved prior to the death of an aged influential man, still require a prior ceremonial slaughter of pigs.

The four different kinds of high-quality traditional artwork statues produced by master woodcarvers in Bawomataluo Village in South Nias are:
1. Adu Silewe Nazarata (Images of the Manifestation of Highest Priestess Goddess)
2. Adu Zatua (Images of the Manifestation of Forefather Ancestors)
3. Adu Siraha (Images of the Manifestation of Chieftain King Ancestors)
4. Motif Inovasi(New Innovative Motif)

 Silewe Nazarata - Highest Priestess (simple motif, vintage) 

The motif of this authentic and accurately reproduced vintage Silewe Nazarata statue of simple design, represents the manifestation of the spirit of the omnipresent goddess Silewe Nazarata, who would both help and protect humans, but on occasion also bring about grave misfortune and illness, or even, total destruction. She is the wife of Lowalangi, who together in ancient Niassan mythical legend, are the two gods who created of the earth.  She had many names and was believed to live on the moon; and hence also commonly referred to by the name, “gaweda Silewe ba mbawa” (Moon Goddess). 

The great strength and influence of Silewe Nazarata inferred that she was androgynous, and so, she was believed to possess both male and female attributes, which is clearly represented in the hermaphroditic motif of the statue. She was regarded as the Highest Priestess of the Ono Niha, and therefore also the omnipotent ancestor spirit most frequently invoked and/or summoned by the ancient “Ere” priests and priestesses of Nias. These statues were the most commonly utilized ‘work tools’ of the Niassan Ere, who were in effect, shamans. Furthermore, it may be noted that due to the aforementioned shrinking base of traditional knowledge, in literature this motif is often given the incorrect name of, “Adu Horo”.
Code : AYNIASV 001blk
Stock: only 1 vintage piece available  

Silewe Nazarata - Highest Priestess (detailed motif) 

The motif of Artyogi’s authentic and accurately reproduced Silewe Nazarata statue of detailed design, represents the spirit of the powerful and omnipresent goddess Silewe Nazarata, who would both help and protect humans, but on occasion, also bring about grave misfortune and illness, or even, total destruction. She was the wife of Lowalangi, who together in ancient South Niassan mythical legend, are the two gods who created of the earth.  She had many names and was believed to live on the moon; and hence also commonly referred to by the name, “gaweda Silewe ba mbawa” (Moon Goddess)

The great strength and influence of Silewe Nazarata meant that she was androgynous, and so, she was believed to possess both male and female attributes, which is clearly represented in the hermaphroditic motif of the statue. She was regarded as the Highest Priestess of the Ono Niha, and therefore also the omnipotent ancestor spirit most frequently invoked and/or summoned by the ancient “Ere” priests and priestesses of Nias.

The multiple faces carved both on the front of the two horn-like protrusions that extend upward from the top of the head of this statue, as well as, the small figurine that is suspended between them, represent the unique ability of Silewe Nazarata to summon, control and/or repel the multitude of lesser (good and bad) ancestral spirits. These statues were the most commonly utilized ‘work tools’ of the Niassan Ere, who were in effect, shamans. Furthermore, it may be noted that due to the aforementioned shrinking base of traditional knowledge, in literature this motif is often given the incorrect name of, “Adu Horo”.

Code: AYNIASH 001blk

Stock: 7 authentic reproduction pieces 

Adu Zatua Anting - Noble Class Earring Forefather (wearing head-wrap)

The motif of this authentic statue represents the spirit of a deceased wealthy nobleman. The higher position of the deceased within the social hierarchy of the village is denoted by the single, long earring he is wearing. In the past, ornate pieces of jewelry were fashioned out of brass, silver and gold by the village smith. 

Today there are no more than but a handful of smiths still producing jewelry items in South Nias. These traditional artisans no longer produce the fine, highly ornate gold and silver pieces of the past and are now primarily working with either recycled steel or brass.

Code : AYNIASS 005blk & AYNIASB 013blk

Stock: 2 dissimilar pieces (carved by different artisans)


Adu Zatua Sifatele Meriam - Cannoneer Warrior Forefather

The varying motifs of Artyogi’s authentic vintage and accurately reproduced Nias Chieftain King Ancestor statues represent the spirits of long-deceased village/intervillage leaders. In the past it was believed that the ancestral spirit embodied in the statues of deceased village monarchs, had the ability to protect the house of the existing village nobleman chieftain from the intrusion of evil spirits that sought to disrupt and/or bring about misfortune.

Code(s): various
Stock: various

Adu Siraha - Chieftain King Ancestor

The varying motifs of Artyogi’s authentic vintage and accurately reproduced Nias Chieftain King Ancestor statues represent the spirits of long-deceased village/intervillage leaders. In the past it was believed that the ancestral spirit embodied in the statues of deceased village monarchs, had the ability to protect the house of the existing village nobleman chieftain from the intrusion of evil spirits that sought to disrupt and/or bring about misfortune.

Code(s): various

Stock: various 

Adu Sanari/Sarambia - Female Dancer Ancestor

The motif of this significantly-miniaturized statue represents the spirit of a ceremonial female dancer. In the past, women staged ceremonial dance presentations for the royal families of village level or alliance level kingdoms. At the funeral of a chieftain king in South Nias, a previously prepared Adu Sanari statue would be placed in his coffin; a highly honored ceremonial right which was reserved exclusively for royalty.

The removable arms of the Adu Sanari dancer statue must be shaped to be as symmetrical as possible, which is required to convey the gracefulness of the royal dancer, and therefore, makes this particular design far more time consuming to shape than most.
Code: AYNIASS 003blk
Stock: 1 piece

 Adu Nuwu - Gatherer of Spirit Dust

The unique motif and function of this significantly miniaturized, yet authentic and accurately reproduced statue represents the final transition into the afterlife. In the past, the traditional belief system of the Niassan people saw the passage of the human spirit from this world into the next as a transitional process, which included a lengthy phase during which, much like in the Hindu belief system, the spirit of the deceased would remain trapped in the world of the living. The bamboo component of this statue had the function to gradually collect dust particles within the home of the deceased. Once full, which would only occur after a period of some years, the top of the bamboo tube would be sealed and then buried in a ritual manner. It is of interest to note that only this statue has a bamboo component.

Code: AYNIASB 013blk

Stock: 1 piece

Ina - Mother

The motif of this statue is a woman wearing traditional dress and headgear while breast feeding her baby, which represents motherhood. It embodies the mother’s all-important role in family life, as both the source and nurturer of children in modern (still traditional but no longer pagan) Christian family life.   It is one of the many innovative new designs that have been created over the past three decades. 

Code: AYNIASB 011blk
Stock: 1 piece


King on Throne: The Apex Masterpiece of Bawomataluo Wall Carvings


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Nias Story - Master Carvers
Nias Story - Master Carvers
By Bali Store / Monday,November 07, 2016