Pair of Architectural SingasHeight: 26 1/2 in. ea.(67.31 cm) wood
Morton Dimondstein and James Willis, Private Collection
Heather James Fine Art, Palm Desert
San Francisco, James Willis Gallery


Singas are the most important decorative element seen in Batak Toba houses.
The word singa comes from Sanskrit and means “lion”. There are innumerable
representations, but mostly, they just depict the head, which is significant for two
reasons. Firstly, the Toba believe that it keeps misfortune, diseases and evil
influences from the house and its inhabitants, and also that it can release positive
beneficial powers for the good of the inhabitants. To the Batak the singa is a
mythological primeval beast of no defined zoological species. The horn is often
regarded as another memory of the world-tree. It rises above the head of the
mythological underworld beast, which is imagined as the naga, the serpent or

The Batak Toba people live in in the remote mountainous highlands in the western
and eastern coastal region north of the equator, with many deep valleys carved by
rivers and streams. Their homes are large rectangular buildings on massive
wooden pillars with three levels, corresponding to the three spheres of the
cosmos. The space for the animals below the living level symbolizes the underworld. The high roof above the living level is the abode of the gods and also sometimes the ancestors. The side beams of the house with the singa heads at their front ends support the room where people live and are thus comparable with the underworld dragon.