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Ritual Art and Cultural Heritage of Insular Southeast Asia


Disclaimer: due to the coronavirus pandemic, this course description might be subject to changes.

Admission requirements:

This course is an (extracurricular) Honours Class: an elective course within the Honours College programme. Third year students who don’t participate in the Honours College, have the opportunity to apply for a Bachelor Honours Class. Students will be selected based on i.a. their motivation and average grade.


The course stresses (1) the meanings and functions of the ritual art (cultural heritage) of indigenous peoples of insular SE Asia in its cultural settings and (2) how it started travelling overseas during the colonial era.

What happened at the grassroots is germane for - highly topical -issues regarding repatriation, which as such will remain implicit in the present class.

Apart from (1) a theoretical/methodological framework the course provides (2) four exemplary case-studies from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

Course objectives:

  • You will explore theoretical/conceptual issues to do with making sense of the ritual art of the traditional peoples of insular SE Asia and how it was handled by various parties.

  • You will learn to work with certain analytical tools which are more widely applicable in both archaeology and anthropology.

  • You will acquire grassroots background knowledge which is essential when handling cultural heritage issues, but often remains understudied (such as local ideas of ownership of objects or the local interest of the immaterial).

  • Through a visit and an assignment you will become familiar with the Museum Volkenkunde, its Reference Library, and one or more ritual items of your own choice. You will train your heuristic skills in that setting.

Programme and timetable:

Week 1: General introduction on methodological issues regarding the categorization of “style(s)” and ethnic groups.
Wednesday 3 February 2021 19:00-21:00 hrs

Week 2 and 3: Case studies NW New Guinea and E. Borneo.
Wednesday 10 & 17 February 2021 19:00-21:00 hrs

Week 4 and 5: Case studies Enggano and Siassi.
Wednesday 24 February & 3 March 2021 19:00-21:00 hrs

Week 6: Museum assignment in Museum Volkenkunde.
Wednesday 10 March 2021 19:00-21:00 hrs

Week 7: Wrap-up and discussion.
Wednesday 17 March 2021 19:00-21:00 hrs


(Mostly) online

Reading list:

Two articles by P. ter Keurs, on Siassi (in Shadows of New Guinea, 2006) and Enggano (in The World of Tribal Arts, 2002).

Parts of R. Corbey (2019), Korwar: Northwest New Guinea ritual art according to missionary sources. Leiden: C. Zwartenkot Art Books.

Parts of R. Corbey (2018), Jurookng: Shamanic amulets from Southeast Borneo. Leiden: C. Zwartenkot Art Books.

Pdf’s will be made available.

Various brief entries (to be specified) from A. Barnard & J. Spencer (Eds.), The Routledge Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology, London: Routledge, 1996 or 2010; available at the Leiden University Library as well as on-line through the Leiden University Library.

Course load and teaching method:

This course is worth 5 EC, which means the total course load equals 140 hours.

  • 12 hours of interaction through internet

  • 2 hours museum visit

  • 250 pages of literature

Assessment methods:

(1) LARGE PAPER Teams of, preferably, three students are expected to submit a final co-authored paper of approx. 4000 words. In order to avoid a too uneven workload approx. 2500 to 3000 words are required for teams of two and approx. 2000 words for any individually authored paper. Quality above quantity, of course.
There will be a footnote or end note in any teamwork paper specifying who did what and briefly (a few lines) describing the process of production (e.g., discussions, disagreement, practical considerations, problems). (2) SMALL PAPER Each individual student will submit a c.400 words description of an object chosen in the museum from one of the four areas considered in the class (according to a preset format).

(1) weighs in for 75 %, (2) for 25 %; pass weighed by average grade; retake for parts is possible.

Brightspace and uSis:

Brightspace will be used in this course. Students can register for the Brightspace module one week prior to the start of the course.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Bachelor Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.

Registration process:

UPDATE 29-10
Registration will be possible from Monday 9 November 2020 up to and including Thursday 19 November 2020 23:59 through the registration link on the student website of the Honours Academy.

Prof. dr. R. Corbey