Tribal art for the culturally curious decorator

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Indonesia is home to thousands of culturally distinct groups that occupy roughly 6,000 islands. (The rest of the country’s 11,508 islands are humanless.) Because of the cultural richness of the entire country, it seems unfair only to speak about a few of the societies. But I think you’ll find these cultures and their traditional art representative of the fascinating history of the Indonesian people.

I shouldn’t forget to mention that all of these wonderful pieces can be found at Big Mango Trading Co.

To the Tana Toraja people of Sulawesi, the water buffalo is perhaps the most significant living creature, other than humans. It is not only a symbol of wealth and nobility, but also a tremendous asset for it’s trading value and meat. Because they are so revered, wooden buffalo heads like this adorn the front of most traditional Toraja houses.

Water Buffalo
Water Buffalo

The architecture belonging to the Tana Toraja people of Sulawesi is fascinating because of it’s unusual shapes and expressions. This panel is one of many that make up the front wall of a traditional Toraja home. The carvings represent the families’ social status and belief system, which is generally centered around prosperity and fertility.


Traditionally, necklaces like these were traded among the people of Papua New Guinea for the sole purpose of building mutual trust and social and business relationships. Made of seashells and plant fiber, these pieces were proudly worn.

Papua New Guinea Necklace
Papua New Guinea Necklace

Batik in Bali and throughout Indonesia is as much a part of the local culture as is satay and gado-gado, two common street vendor and menu offerings. Traditionally made for sarongs and other ceremonial dress, batik patterns today are incorporated into decorative textiles and fashionable clothing for international consumers.

Batik pillows

Being one of the few cultures in the world that have built megalithic burials, the people of Sumba treat their ancestral spirits or ‘Marapu’ seriously. These ‘guardian figures’, as they are also considered, are prominent in Sumbanese life, art and architecture.

Wood Guardian Figures
Ancestral Spirit on Horse
Stone Marapua