Chief’s House Lintel Paiwan Tribe South Taiwan The Todd Barlin Collection
|Size||Length 199cm x Height 55cm|
This large carved Chief’s House Lintel is from the Paiwan People of South Taiwan / Formosa Island. This superb carved lintel is made from a single large piece of hardwood, the tree it was made from would have been huge. The carved designs in high relief tell a story of the history of the Paiwan Clan that it belonged to. The centre is carved with a line of interlocking male & female ancestors and the six male figures in the centre are drinking from a ceremonial vessel and below these figures are totemic animals, pigs, deer and the most important motif the primordial ancestor the snake.
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 traditional Paiwan house is an asymmetrical, gabled building made of slate and wood. Slate slabs are used for walls, roofs, sleeping platform, benches, and all pavements inside and out. Wooden parts include posts, beams, ridge pole, rafters, and doors. The most luxurious residences of chiefly households have carvings on the wooden eave-beams, doors, screens, main posts and even walls.
Usually, a Lintel was carved with human figures and figures of snakes or other animals. The human figure is either known by a personal name and remembered as the founder of the house or is known as a heroic ancestor of the household. The hundred-pacer snake (Agkistrodon acutus) is one of the major characters in Paiwan mythology, and it is generally considered to be the pro-creator of the nobles and, in some episodes, of the commoners as well. With local variations in details, the focal theme of the procreation myths is that a female human accepted a marriage proposal from a snake, but not without strong dissent from her family. Jars with snake designs were given to the woman’s family by the snake as bride-price, along with the privilege of using the snake design. These jars later became heirlooms of the family line that descended from this reptile-human union. Unions between women and snakes foretell prosperity and abundance for the descendants.
This superb Lintel would date from the early 20th Century conservatively. You can see the age of this artwork in the photo of the back of the Lintel you can see it was rough-hewn by hand and you can see the places were it was set into the original building. It has a very old patina.
I have added some extra images of this artwork that were taken in natural light & show the caving and the wood in true colour, there was no flash or lights only daylight. Please see the last 5 photos these are in natural light .
Provenance: This Lintel was acquired by ex-pats living in Japan in the early 1950s along with a few other Paiwan & Ruki carvings.
The Todd Barlin Collection of Oceanic and Asian Art
If you are interested in Buddhist Art from Tibet and Mongolia or Buddhist Art see my publication: Art of Compassion 2018