Atauro is an arid island fewer than sixteen miles from Dili and the East Timor mainland. Formerly known by the alternate name of Pulau Kambing or Goat Island, Atauro's rugged, barren landscape is dominated by extinct volcanoes.

 
 

© M. Felix

Tradition relates that before the conversion of Atauro's inhabitants to Christianity, a divine couple, Baku-Mau and his female consort, Lebu Hmoru were worshipped there as fertility deities. The maintenance of these local idols was once considered synonymous with good health and prosperity. Several extraordinary and venerable carved wooden statues of this sacred pair have survived for posterity.  

Little has survived from Atauro' historic material culture aside from the aforementioned figures, a clutch of charms, several pairs of outdoor funerary statues, a limited number of ceremonial shields, and utilitarian items such as decorated hand axes. The exception to this statement is a ubiquitous class of statues known as itara, which were hung from the 'branches' of forked posts behind dwellings or on "the spine of the male end of the house."

Each family would possess at least one pair of these effigies that represented and promoted a harmonic connection to the ancestors. The more prominent a family, the higher the number of itara that were displayed. These figures were invoked with the names of revered ancestors to bestow wisdom and blessings upon their descendants. 

Old and rare examples of the arts of Atauro are found in such fine venues as The Dallas Museum of Art, The Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University, Yale University Art Gallery, de Young Museum, Musée du Quai-Branly, and Musée Barbier-Mueller. Scholarly approaches to the material culture of Atauro can be found in the works of Jorge Barros Duarte, and Joanna Barkkman.

 
 

Shrine Figure of Deity | Baku-Mau
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA

Ancestor Figure | Itara
© Musée Quai-Branly | France

Gravesite Funeral Figure
© Yale University Art Gallery | Connecticut, USA

Ceremonial Ivory Spoon from Eastern Indonesia
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA

Ancestor Figure | Itara
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA

Female Ancestor Figure with Child | Itara
© de Young Museum FAMSF | California, USA

Standing Charm Carved from a Dugong’s Tooth © The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA

Standing Charm Carved from a Dugong’s Tooth
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA

Pair of Ancestor Figures | Itara
© Musée du Quai-Branly | France

Ancestor Figure | Itara
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA

Ceremonial Ivory Spoon from Eastern Indonesia
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA

Shrine Figure of Deity | Lebu-Hmoru
© Eskenazi Museum of Art | Indiana, USA

Charm Fashioned from Buffalo Horn
© Musée du Quai-Branly | France