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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.

Disciplines: Anthropology, Cultural Heritage Studies, Art History

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 a (more widely applicable) conceptual tools the course provides four case-studies from Insular SE Asia (and 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:

The sessions of this class will take place on Wednesdays from 11.15 - 13.00.

Session 1: Wednesday 2 February 2022 11:15-13:00 hrs
General introduction on methodological issues regarding the categorization of “style(s)” and ethnic groups.

Session 2: 9 February 2022
Case studies NW New Guinea and E. Borneo.

Session 3: 16 February 2022
Case studies NW New Guinea and E. Borneo.

Session 4: 23 February 2022
Case studies Enggano and Siassi.

Session 5: 2 March 2022
Case studies Enggano and Siassi.

Session 6: 9 March 2022
Museum assignment in Museum Volkenkunde.

Session 7:: 16 March 2022
Plenary powerpoint presentations.

Old Observatory, room C004

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.

  • Seven obligatory weekly meetings of two hours each (includes a museum visit).

  • Weekly readings of all in all c. 250 pages of literature.

  • Preparation of a joint powerpoint and an individual object description.

Assessment methods:

(1) JOINT POWERPOINT PRESENTATION Teams of, preferably, three students are expected to submit a final co-authored paper. An end note will be included specifying who did what and briefly (a few lines) describing the process of production (e.g., discussions, practical considerations, solved problems).

(2) INDIVIDUAL 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. Upon admission students will be enrolled in Brightspace by the teaching administration.

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

Registration process:

Submitting an application for this course is possible from Monday 1 November 2021 up to and including Thursday 11 November 2021 23:59 through the link on the Honours Academy student website.

Note: students don’t have to register for the Bachelor Honours Classes in uSis. The registration is done centrally before the start of the class.

Prof. dr. R. Corbey: