Ancestors in Borneo Societies

Death, Transformation, and Social Immortality

edited by Pascal Couderc and Kenneth Sillander

Available from NIAS Press worldwide
ISBN Hardback: 978 87 7694 091 1, £65.00
ISBN Paperback: 978 87 7694 092 8, £25.00

This first major study of ancestors in Borneo societies challenges classic ethnographic representations of ancestor worship and genealogical understandings of ancestors in anthropology. It will be of lasting interest far beyond the bounds of Borneo studies and will enrich the broader anthropological scholarship on ancestors, kinship, and religion.

While death, eschatology and exotic indigenous deathways have long held a privileged position in the ethnographic and popular literature on Borneo, ancestors have remained a strangely neglected topic. This volume fills this lacuna by presenting a collection of essays on ancestors in Borneo societies written by anthropologists with extensive experience in the field and drawing on new scholarship in kinship and animism studies.

Belying the unimportance of ancestors in the literature, the essays document a complex significance of ancestors in Borneo religion and social life. Ancestors appear in a variety of manifestations and contexts, including as guests or distant beneficiaries of offerings in mortuary and community rituals, as village guardians and personal protecting spirits, as assistants in curing rituals and warfare, as unsolicited visitors in dreams and involuntary possession, and as sources of political authority, cultural legitimacy, and collective identity in public discourse. The pattern of relating to ancestors that emerges from this close collaborative effort differs from classic ethnographic representations of ancestor worship based on Sino-African material, and broadens the theoretical and comparative understanding of the subject.

Exploring at depth complex questions about the constitution of ancestorship and how ancestral status is established – and the role in this regard of death, kinship, prowess, morality and ritual – this volume will not just be of interest to regional specialists but also will enrich the general anthropological theory of ancestors, kinship and religion.

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Kenneth Sillander is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the Swedish School of Social Scie

Kenneth Sillander is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the Swedish School of Social Science, University of Helsinki. He studied anthropology at the University of Helsinki and has done fieldwork among the Bentian of Indonesian Borneo. Research interests include social organization, religion, and ethnicity.

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by Angela Pashia
From journal:
Anthropos, 109.2014.1

"Overall, this volume provides a wealth of ethnographic detail on the role of ancestors in Borneo societies. The evidence makes a strong case for the importance of ancestors, in various forms, in the ritual lives of several Borneo societies."

"Overall, this volume provides a wealth of ethnographic detail on the role of ancestors in Borneo societies. The evidence makes a strong case for the importance of ancestors, in various forms, in the ritual lives of several Borneo societies."

by Charles Macdonald
From journal:
L’Homme revue francais d’anthropologie, no. 211, pp.185-188

"Each chapter is a mini-treaty detailing, analysing and comparing a version of ancestry, examining a very large amount of facts, practices and representations, providing a wide range of precise and clearly presented data. The authors are all experienced field ethnologists.

"Each chapter is a mini-treaty detailing, analysing and comparing a version of ancestry, examining a very large amount of facts, practices and representations, providing a wide range of precise and clearly presented data. The authors are all experienced field ethnologists.

The editorial work obeys the law of juxtaposing texts which unify the overall theme and proximity of cultures considered, not to a theory or school of thought. Each author interprets freely, but also looks to the work of his colleagues to verify that the interpretation remains within an acceptable conceptual framework and in the heart of the current debate." (Translated from French)

by Sébastien Penmellen Boret, Tohoku University
From journal:
Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, Vol. 29, No. 2, July 2014

"The originality of this volume lies in its introduction to the analytical concept of ancestorship…this volume details a multiplicity of circumstances in which each category of ancestors may manifest its potency or power.

"The originality of this volume lies in its introduction to the analytical concept of ancestorship…this volume details a multiplicity of circumstances in which each category of ancestors may manifest its potency or power.

…Ancestors in Borneo Societies is certainly a most resourceful contribution, one that invites a serious consideration of the concept of ancestorship in the anthropology of death."

by James J. Fox, The Australian National University
From journal:
Asian Journal of Social Science 42 (2014)

"There is not a dull paper in the collection. At the conclusion of this volume, one has a sense that the distinct papers in this collection have knitted together well with one another to produce a coherent volume with a cogent presentation.

A single reading is insuficcient to do justice to the ethnographic richness that this volume offers."

"There is not a dull paper in the collection. At the conclusion of this volume, one has a sense that the distinct papers in this collection have knitted together well with one another to produce a coherent volume with a cogent presentation.

A single reading is insuficcient to do justice to the ethnographic richness that this volume offers."

by Roger Kershaw
From journal:
Internationales Asienforum, May 2013

"…we are offered the no less high-powered collection…dedicated to reaching out beyond the relative fixation of the Hertzian theory of death on mortuary rites and the conclusive journeys which begin there, towards an interest in ancestors in an ongoing, benevolent or authoritative/advisory capacity for the living in Borneo societies…

"…we are offered the no less high-powered collection…dedicated to reaching out beyond the relative fixation of the Hertzian theory of death on mortuary rites and the conclusive journeys which begin there, towards an interest in ancestors in an ongoing, benevolent or authoritative/advisory capacity for the living in Borneo societies…

…readers of more ethnographic than anthropological inclination are treated to eight studies whose titles convey a valid impression of delights in store…"

by Stephen C. Druce
From journal:
International Journal of Asia-Pacific Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1, January 2014

"…a valuable contribution to understanding the religious and social significance of ancestors in the world’s third largest island…a book of this nature and focus is long overdue and it will no doubt stimulate further studies on ancestors in other Borneo societies and the Austronesian-speaking world as a whole…Its rich ethnographic data allows for much wider comparative studies on anc

"…a valuable contribution to understanding the religious and social significance of ancestors in the world’s third largest island…a book of this nature and focus is long overdue and it will no doubt stimulate further studies on ancestors in other Borneo societies and the Austronesian-speaking world as a whole…Its rich ethnographic data allows for much wider comparative studies on ancestorship with other parts of the world."

by Jérôme Rousseau, McGill University
From journal:
Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol 44, No 03, October 2013

"All the contributions are excellent; furthermore, the authors approach the topic in a coherent manner in providing detailed ethnographic information.

…I have found this book to be consistently fascinating and thought-provoking."

"All the contributions are excellent; furthermore, the authors approach the topic in a coherent manner in providing detailed ethnographic information.

…I have found this book to be consistently fascinating and thought-provoking."

by Victor T. King, Institute of Asian Studies, Universiti Brunei Darussalam
From journal:
Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. 86, Part 1, No. 304, June 2013

"This volume is full of good ethnography. It makes an important contribution to Borneo Studies, Southeast Asian Studies and to the general field of anthropology. Unlike some edited books it has a welcome degree of coherence in its discussions and subject matter.

"This volume is full of good ethnography. It makes an important contribution to Borneo Studies, Southeast Asian Studies and to the general field of anthropology. Unlike some edited books it has a welcome degree of coherence in its discussions and subject matter.

…I am convinced that Couderc and Sillander’s volume will become a valuable sourcebook which will be widely consulted and debated."

by Antonio Guerreiro, Anthropologist specialist of Borneo
From journal:
Moussons, 21, 2013

"… the editors present a challenging picture of Bornean ancestorship, its pervasive aspects being revealed in the frame of the Dayak societies’ ritual and belief.

"… the editors present a challenging picture of Bornean ancestorship, its pervasive aspects being revealed in the frame of the Dayak societies’ ritual and belief.

… Each contributor develops an analytical model in assessing the ancestral configurations in the beliefs and social practices, along the lines defined in the introduction. It gives the volume a strong coherence from one article to the other.

… The volume published by NIAS Press is nicely designed, with a pleasant lay-out and illustrated by B/W photographs reproduced with a very good quality. A useful thematic index lists vernacular words (rituals, notions, artifacts, personal names, ethnonyms…) and anthropological concepts. […] The bibliography follows each contribution, making it easier for cross-checking the references in the main text and footnotes.

… In short, this intellectually fascinating book will become a landmark in Borneo studies and, more generally a major reference in the anthropology of ritual and religion in Southeast Asia and the Austronesian World."

by Liana Chia, Brunel University
From journal:
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 19, No. 3, 2013

"On the whole, this collection bodes well for the future of Borneanist scholarship – a field which has had its anaemic moments in recent years.

[…]this book makes absorbing and intelligent reading, and will be a welcome addition to Austronesian ethnography and anthropology at large."

"On the whole, this collection bodes well for the future of Borneanist scholarship – a field which has had its anaemic moments in recent years.

[…]this book makes absorbing and intelligent reading, and will be a welcome addition to Austronesian ethnography and anthropology at large."

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