MATERIAL: Wood
TYPE: Puppet
DIMENSIONS: Height (seated) 44 1/4in (112.5cm)
COMPONENTS: Wood, hair, shell, metal, natural pigments, organic fiber clothing
ITEM ID: 5556
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  • Artwork
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Sa’dan Toraja Funerary Puppet

Tau-Tau (funerary puppet) carved in semi-hard wood with articulated limbs seated on a chair and dressed in old clothing, wearing a series of banded anklets on each leg. The face is inlaid with shell eyes and surmounted with hair inserted into a slot on the top of the head indicating it was probably made for a noblewoman.

It is probable that the oldest rituals employing puppets related to the cult of the ancestors and of the dead. According to many researchers (in particular those investigating Asian puppetry, Willem H. Rassers, Rinnie Tang and Jacques Pimpaneau), these rituals gradually evolved into a theatre of puppets, as illustrated for example by the Indonesian wayang purwa.

There are many other funerary rites in which the puppet is the double of the deceased. Among the Toraja in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, a puppet representing Death accompanies the deceased during the interment ceremony. At first the Toraja arranged as if seated, then lying down, during a long period of ritual before the corpse is carried to the grave. Different kinds of effigies are used, according to the rank and region of the deceased. If he or she is a person of the nobility a puppet, know as tau-tau, is crafted to be used in the ceremonial rites which can often continue for several months after death.

Sulawesi (also know as Celebes) is an island in Indonesia. One of the four Greater Sunda Islands, and the world’s eleventh largest island, it is situated east of Borneo, west of the Maluku Islands, and south of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago.

Islam is the majority religion on the island. Most Muslims are Sunnis. Christians for a substantial minority on the island. According to the demographer Toby Alice Volkman, 17% of Sulawesi’s population is Protestant and less than 2% is Catholic. Christians are concentrated on the tip of the northern peninsula around Manado which is inhabited by Minahasa, a predominantly Protestant people, and the northernmost Sangir and Talmud Islands. The Toraja people of Tana Toraja in South Sulawesi have largely converted to Christianity since Indonesia’s independence. There are also substantial numbers of Christians around Lake Poso in Central Sulawesi, among the Pomona speaking peoples of Central Sulawesi and near Mamasa.

Though most people identify themselves as Muslims or Christians, they often subscribe to local beliefs and deities as well. Smaller communities of Buddhists and Hindus are also found on Sulawesi, usually among the Chinese, Balinese and Indian communities.

From the collection of the later Richard Harris. After retiring in 2001 from his business as an antique prints dealer in Chicago, Harris began to amass a distinctly unusual group of works which called the “Visual Gateway to the Conversation about Death.” The outstanding selection features works in a range of mediums from vernacular photography and ephemera to masterpieces of sculpture, drawing, print and painting. The collection stems from what Harris called his “unquenchable curiosity to investigate the visual subject of Death” and it highlights our everlasting quest to make peace with this universal, inevitable part of life. In his own words, Harris, who died in March at the age of 85, said the uniqueness of his collection lies with its “breadth and depth” and that it is not just a trophy collection of masterpieces. Part of his hoard was previously displayed at the Wellcome Collection Museum in London 2012.