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Tavu domestic altar
70.2001.27.444
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

This tavu altar is shaped like a human with gracefully extended arms and at the same time it is decorated with abstract spiral motifs. The arms were carved separately and added. Very few examples still exist today and are displayed only in a handful of European museums.

History of the Object
This domestic altar, which evoked the body of an ancestor, supported one roof beam of the house. The tavu is a domestic altar dedicated to ancestors. It was placed opposite the front door. The wealth and prestigious assets passed down through a family were also included on the tavu. Certain animals may recall the deeds of the dwelling's founders. On a shelf above the altar lay the skulls of venerated ancestors, their first two vertebrae, and often their effigies. The tavu was an integral part of the notion of lineage and sacred power. It was a clear link between past and present, endowed with special spiritual power, a heritage of the "masters of the house". It was here that prayers and sacrifices were offered to encourage fertility in the people and in the harvest; to ensure success in fishing or headhunting expeditions; and to uphold the union between ancestors and their descendants.

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Type
Sculpture 
Materials
Wood 
Measurements
Width 146 cm Height 130 cm  
Creator name
Unknown 
Creator date
Unknown 
Where it was made
Indonesia; Southern Moluccas; Tanimbar archipelago 
Geography
Indonesia 
Time period
AD 19th century ~ AD 19th century 
Creation date
19th Century 
Function
Spiritual; altar dedicated to the ancestors. 
Acquisition
This panel was brought back to Holland around 1900 by H.J. Raet van Oldenbarnevelt. It was on loan to the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam from 1915. Jean Paul Barbier Mueller bought it in a Christie's auction in Amsterdam. Acquired by the museum in 2001. 
Copyright
 
Acknowledgements
 
Owner
musée du quai Branly 
Museum
Musée du quai Branly 
Credit line
 

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