A Fine Paiwan Tribe Carved Medicine Box South Taiwan Late 19th Century
|Size||15cm x 9.5cm x 7cm high|
This finely carved chief’s box for medicine is from the Paiwan People of South Taiwan / Formosa Island. Dating from the late 19th to very early 20th Century and showing deep old patina and wear.
The lidded Box was likely used to store traditional medicine in. Carved from a single piece of wood in a rectangular form with the tightly fitting lid which is so finely done no insects or dust could get inside. The Box is beautifully carved with the same repeating motif of honoured ancestors linked together upside down and between each of these double figures they are holding a severed head is which is relating to the Paiwan being once fierce headhunters. This amazing design is repeated on all four sides of the box. There is one more important design element which I didn’t see at first, between the sets of figures you can see clearly on the top is a Hundred-Pacer Snake. The Hundred-Pacer Snakes (Agkistrodon acutus) which is an important clan motif in which one of the major characters in Paiwan mythology, and it is generally considered to be the pro-creator of the nobles. The high relief designs on the box are painted with a red lacquer giving the box a shimmering look of the red ancestors dancing with heads in their hands.
The Paiwan are one of several indigenous peoples living the mountainous interior of Taiwan. Paiwan society is hierarchical, divided into high nobles, minor nobility, and commoners. In former times, only the high nobility was entitled to create or commission certain forms of human images, which portrayed important ancestors (tsmas). The ancestors, whose supernatural influence was controlled by the nobility, had the power to either help or harm the community, depending on whether their spirits received proper respect through ritual observances and offerings. The houses of Paiwan nobles were both the physical and artistic centres of ancestral power and imagery. The remains of noble ancestors were buried within the houses of their descendants, and their images adorned the doorways, house posts, and other architectural elements. This impressive Lintel likely once adorned a house of a Paiwan noble family.
The designs of a traditional Paiwan Chiefs house are similar to those used on this fine tray & all other manner of daily use objects that honoured their ancestors.
I have been collecting Oceanic Art for 40 years and have always been fascinated with Paiwan & other Taiwan Indigenous tribes art as they are the know ancestors of the ancient Polynesians. The Taiwan Indigenous tribes art styles have connections & influences on not only Polynesian Art but also on Southeast Asian Art and through Indonesia & island of New Guinea.
Provenance: This fine tray came from the collection of the family of Lin Tien Wang who was working with Paiwan Villages in the early 1930s .
The Todd Barlin Collection of New Guinea Art & Oceanic and Asian Art
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