Meat boxes: Carved hanging salt-meat safes are still being produced in Tana Toraja.Indonesian civilization stretches back more than two millennia. Scattered across the archipelago, just under the soil’s surface lay uncountable artifacts that tell the nation’s history.
But you don’t need to dig deep to uncover the country’s priceless relics; just take a stroll down Jl. Kunti in the back blocks of elite Seminyak in Bali.
Here amid the food vendors and home industries can be found porcelain dating back to the Ming and Song Chinese dynasties and singa or lions head carvings, removed from their original place on traditional Batak houses of Sumatra’s Toba district.
Also here in Jl. Kunti stand the funerary effigies from Tana Toraja in Sulawesi removed from their caves high above their home villages. And with a new law banning the export of Indonesia’s ancient treasures these dolls may be standing here forever.
The 2010 law states that no artifact more than 50 years old can leave the nation’s shores according to I Gusti Bagus Armanusa from the office for archeological heritage conservation in Bali.
However many of these artifacts are reproductions, says Armanusa so it is difficult to know which are real and which are fakes that can be sold.
“We don’t have the equipment needed to date these objects,” says Armanusa.
Some dealers in artifacts, such as Toraja born Tina Kasim from Jimbaran, believes bringing the heritage of her homeland to Bali allows more people to understand the diversity of Indonesia’s arts and crafts.
“I see my role as conserving and introducing Torajan culture to other people. I have exhibited these artifacts in Belgium, Australia and Italy. People on holiday in Bali don’t have the time to travel to places like Tana Toraja, so they can see it here,” says Tina who has set up her business within a series of traditional Torajan houses.
The real deal? These Ka’da’uma roof dolls were found in Sumatra and are now on sale in Bali. While Tina’s stock does hold some ancient treasures within its mix, including a century old hand woven and embroidered ceremonial cloth, most is reproduced from original designs.
“We have these carvings made in Toraja so the skills are not lost and we can share our culture with the world,” says Tina.
“I will not buy or sell the funerary effigies. They should never be removed from their caves. To have them here would be bad karma. OK, sometimes refusing to deal in these things means we may not make money, but if we lose our culture it’s gone forever,” explains Tina.
For Flores born Roy Zikoe, what started out as a hobby has grown into a business. The 28 year old began collecting artifacts from across the country while on holiday in Sumatra.
“I first bought old carvings in Samosir when I went traveling. I saw a lot of these artifacts were being thrown away — the people didn’t want them anymore — they want things made from plastic because they think the modern world is more practical,” says Roy.
He adds that much of his stock was found “stored under houses where in time it would have fallen to bits.
So I started to buy more seriously and then started selling these items. The profit has been far more than I would have expected.”
Roy not only sells antiques from across Indonesia, but also collects for himself.
Intricate work: Tana Torajan born Tina Kasim is introducing Torajan cultural arts to the world, while maintaining the craft traditions in her homeland.He points to a pair of Batak singa carvings.
“These are not for sale. Carvings like these have become so rare that they are irreplaceable. I want to protect things like this for Indonesia so that in the future people will know of them,” says Roy who also has in his stock the Ka’da’uma figures that once sat on top of Batak roofs.
He speaks with distaste of grave robbers who steal Torajan funerary effigies for profit.
“These effigies we have in the shop are reproductions we have had made for us. There are people who have stolen these dolls from the caves, but that has now stopped and most of these are copies.
We can buy original bia bia [funerary] dolls from the families who sell them to make some money, and that is not seen as a problem, but the stolen effigies — that is a problem,” says Roy who says many of the items in his shop are hundreds of years old.
Now 70 years of age, Michael Daeng from South Sulawesi has been trading in Indonesia’s antiquities for half his life.
“I have put my kids through university through trading in antiques. I started when I was 35 years old and would like to sell the whole lot now so I can retire,” says Michael who has in his collection original funerary dolls from Tana Toraja and 1,000-year-old Chinese porcelain.
Cultural heritage: Rooster and buffalo carvings from Torajan homes can be found in Bali.Collecting across Sulawesi, Michael says he has built up the contacts needed for his business and can access important pieces that he buys “when people need money. They have no work so their income is blocked. Families are allowed to sell these items,” he explains of his collection that he admits is 20 percent reproduction.
“As to the new law, I have heard nothing of that. Yes officers from the archeology department check my stock, but they have never found what they were looking for,” says Michael.
These stores that are filled to overflow with antiques sourced from across the archipelago are in stark contrast to the Gedong Arca Museum. The museum that houses the office of archeological heritage conservation for Bali, the West Nusa Tenggara and East Nusa Tenggara has surprisingly few antiquities on display.
— Photos by JP/J.B.Djwan