Building an Indigenous Museum in the Vatican

Some Papuan Directions for Indigenising Museums

  • Roberto Costa Macquarie University, Sydney
Keywords: transcultural indigenous museums, social change, museum indigenisation, Asmat woodcarvers, Papua, Indonesia


Debates around the significance, function and social value of museums are still challenging museum practices and models. In particular, the demands of “source communities” for self-representation and self-emancipation in the global community continue to call into question the role of the museum as a catalyst for promoting social change across cultures. In this paper, I push this question further by discussing the desires  of a group of Roman Catholic woodcarvers in central Asmat (Indonesian Papua) to build a museum for exhibiting their carvings in the Vatican. To them, the Vatican is not only the sacred centre of Catholicism but also an integral part of their mythical world of ancestors. After a brief examination of their considerations, I attempt to put their ambitious museum idea into dialogue with current debates on “the postcolonial museum” to highlight how it can dictate new directions for indigenising museums.

Author Biography

Roberto Costa, Macquarie University, Sydney

Roberto Costa is a doctoral candidate in Anthropology at Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia). His doctoral thesis draws on six months of fieldwork conducted in an Asmat village among a local carving community (Indonesian Papua). His research project focuses on Asmat woodcarvers’ search for the prestige and life power they previously would have obtained through now-abandoned ritual practices (headhunting and cannibalism). In doing so, he explores the impact of local Christian theology on artistic practices; new paradigms of leadership and talent; the quest for self-representation in the West and reciprocity in non-Asmat relations; and local ruminations about history and nostalgia.

How to Cite
Costa, Roberto. 2020. “Building an Indigenous Museum in the Vatican: Some Papuan Directions for Indigenising Museums”. TSANTSA – Journal of the Swiss Anthropological Association 25 (September):141-52.