A Blog by International Students at Leiden University

Volkenkunde part 2

So I realized I hadn’t put up all the pictures from my visit to the Volkenkunde(ethnology museum). Don’t worry I didn’t capture the entire collection so there is still reason to visit it in person.  I have always been fascinated with the history of civilization. Along with fossils, thanks to the revolution in genetics we know that modern day humans originated in Africa but the path our ancestors took wasn’t singular or immediate. Over millennia several mini-settlements emerged and largely disappeared  but in the process also left behind relics such as those at this museum.

Ultimately one day I’d like to go and visit one of those caves with paintings from 200,000 years ago just to get the ‘feel’ but I found out this museum too is home to some truly special artifacts. Take for example the pendant below (Leiden plate)- these belong to Mayan rulers who would wear it on their belt – and this one is believed to be among the oldest Mayan inscriptions which is particularly important since although many civilizations did record important events they didn’t necessarily record dates!


Leiden Plate


Unfortunately that’s the best picture I have of it but the wikipedia entry for the same has a hand-traced version of the art in the middle. Take a look –

Something that I could personally relate to was this ivory art from African tribes. The carvings show the daily routine of the people and it reminds me of similar carvings on pillars of Indian temples which depict the lives and struggles of ancient India.


Speaking of Indian temples it is worth noting the influence of Hinduism in South east Asia. While countries like Indonesia are almost entirely Islamic today, many of the world’s oldest temples can be found there. In fact I was surprised to find how well versed a muslim Indonesian friend  of mine was in ‘Hindu’ epics such as The Mahabharata and Ramayan. These fables from ancient times have passed down generations through festivals of street plays despite having nothing to do with Islam. Here is a popular Hindu god – Ganesha. This elephant-headed deity is known as the remover of obstacles and is thus usually worshipped at the beginning of a ceremony. While much of the traditions travelled across the seas there are still some notable exceptions to be found – for instance the Ganesha found in South East(as below) is often seen with skulls – this is certainly not the popular image of the deity in India, where he is depicted as a very jolly character, especially a favourite among children.



I could go on and on about all the collections but it would be unfair of me to do so. If you are in Leiden then do pay a visit to the museum – especially if you are a student – because it doesn’t cost a penny! There is always something going on so be sure to check the website regularly  – . Just a reminder that the Geisha exhibition will be taken down after April 6 so you still have a few more weeks to check it out.


Take care,


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This entry was posted on March 12, 2015 by in Authors, Culture, Leisure, Shourya.

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