Antiques and Adat: The Changing Face of Paka’s Mini-museum

This working paper deals with issues surrounding evolving cultural and religious practices and indigenous artefacts in the face of tourism and Christianity in Borneo (Sarawak, Malaysia).

Title of working paper: Antiques and Adat: The Changing Face of Paka’s Mini-museum,Kampung Benuk, Penrissen, Kuching

Author: Liana Chua
Liana Chua is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge and was IEAS Visiting Associate in 2005.


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Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, 94300 Kota Samarahan, Sarawak, MALAYSIA
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“On 2 October 2004, Paka anak Otor, a descendant of Kampung Benuk’s original Tua Gawai (ritual head) lineage, passed away suddenly. He left behind a large stash of old photographs, family documents, and most importantly, his ‘mini-museum’: a collection of heirlooms, ritual objects, local tools and household implements, as well as various other items which happened to catch his fancy. The last category was particularly eclectic in scope, for Paka was a voracious collector of stuff in general: Japanese Occupation banknotes, black-and-white television sets, dusty ‘Ventolin syrup’ glass bottles and a boomerang nestled quite comfortably, as they do today, amid the more ‘traditional’ artefacts on display.

Paka’s mini-museum is housed on the ground floor of his family home, situated atop a small mound overlooking the village. Days before his death, he was still showing tourists around it, as he had done for the last four decades. The mini-museum was very much Paka’s domain: he alone acquired new objects, rearranged the displays, and spoke to visitors about the collection and more general aspects of adat Gawai, or local pre-Christian rituals, beliefs and customs. His death therefore left the mini-museum bereft, and raised serious questions over its future. Who would run the place now that the tua ramin (head of the house) was gone? Should it – indeed could it – still be kept open for tourists? And if so, how would the family convey everything that Paka had to these visitors? There was little written information in the mini-museum; none of its potential custodians spoke fluent enough English to converse with branda(1) tourists; and most importantly, nobody actually knew as much as Paka did about adat Gawai and the objects on display. In retrospect, Paka had been the centre of the mini-museum, the one person who held everything together; and in the immediate aftermath of his demise, it seemed empty and incomplete, a random assortment of objects with no one to make sense of it all.”

(To read the paper, please download the PDF file below)

(1) Branda, deriving from the Dutch Belanda, is used locally as a generic label for all white people.

© Copyright is held by the author or authors of each Working Paper. Jan 2006. IEAS Working Papers cannot be republished, reprinted, or reproduced in any format without the permission of the paper’s author or authors. Note: The views expressed in each paper are those of the author or authors of the paper. They do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Institute of East Asian Studies or Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS)

Published: 12 Jan 2006

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Universiti Malaysia Sarawak94300 Kota SamarahanSarawak, Malaysia

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Websites: Associate Professor James Chin, Director of Institute of East Asian Studies Universiti Malaysia Sarawak