VIRTUAL COLLECTION OF ASIAN MASTERPIECES

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Figure of a water spirit
As1905,-.637
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

This wooden figure is a particularly fine example of the belum carvings collected by Charles Hose along the Igan River, north-west Borneo, at the turn of the nineteenth century.

History of the Object
Belum are used by the Melanau in rituals to cure diseases. First the spirit who caused the illness is tentatively identified on the basis of the visible symptoms of the illness, and then invited into the wooden figure to participate in the ritual to cure the patient. In this example, the hands are held over the stomach, suggesting that it might have been used for belly aches. According to Hose's catalogue, this figure is a durik (or durhig) and belongs to a category of belum carvings in which the spirit has a particularly vicious character. In 1949 and 1950, Dr H. Stephen Morris recorded detailed information on Melanau beliefs. One of his informants, Satim bin Resa, explained 'that a durhig is very big and wants to exchange its body with a corpse. As a result a corpse will become bloated, and not fit into its coffin. A male durhig can make the eyes of a corpse open.'

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Type
Sculpture 
Materials
Wood 
Measurements
Height 36 cm.  
Creator name
Melanau people 
Creator date
Unknown 
Where it was made
Sarawak, Malaysia 
Geography
Malaysia 
Time period
AD 19th century ~ AD 20th century 
Creation date
19th Century - 20th Century; 1880-1905 
Function
Used in rituals to cure diseases. 
Acquisition
Purchased from Dr Charles Hose in 1905 
Copyright
Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum 
Acknowledgements
H.S. Morris, The Oya Melanau: traditional Ritual and Belief with a Catalogue of Belum Carvings (Sarawak Museum Journal Monograph no. 9, 1997) 
Owner
British Museum 
Museum
British Museum 
Credit line
Christy Collection 

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