Book for magic (pustaha)

20th century, 1950–2000
Artist Unidentified, Pacific Islander

Object Place: Northern Sumatra, Indonesia


Overall: 29 x 19 x 5 cm (11 7/16 x 7 1/2 x 1 15/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Wood, bast, plaited rattan cord, pigment

Not On View


Africa and Oceania, Contemporary Art


Decorative arts

This book for magic (pustaha) belongs to the Batak people of Northern Sumatra. The Batak lived in the orbit of Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms in coastal Sumatra and also came in contact with Islamic and Christian ideas. In response, they developed a script inspired by Sanskrit characters from India. Only a few highly regarded individuals possessed writing skills. Among them was the datu, or ritual specialist, who kept written records of the knowledge of his predecessors in this book. The pages are inscribed with characters on both sides, and some contain drawings or figures. This pustaha may allude to the art of divining or the preservation of life and death.


1993, sold by Galerie d'Orient et d'ailleurs- L'ile du demon, Paris, to Geneviève McMillan (b. 1922 - d. 2008), Cambridge, MA; 2008, to the Geneviève McMillan and Reba Stewart Foundation, Cambridge; 2009, gift of the Geneviève McMillan and Reba Stewart Foundation to the MFA. (Accession Date: June 17, 2009)

Credit Line

Gift of Geneviève McMillan in memory of Reba Stewart