skip to content

Department of Social Anthropology


A new exhibition at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology tells the story of how Asmat people of Papua, Indonesia, have transformed Catholicism in accordance with their ancestral ritual life.  

An on-line tour is available on the University of Cambridge Museums' YouTube channel,  EBXiafDSFA&

For generations, Asmat people have negotiated relationships with their ancestors, and with each other, through cycles of ritual. Since the 1970s, Asmat people have reshaped their church practices around cycles of ritual feasting, creating innovative forms of material culture that mediate between ancestral spirits and a Catholic God. This exhibition looks at how indigenous feasts have been taken up to celebrate Christmas and other Christian festivals. While Asmat men’s ritual arts, in the form of woodcarving, are widely held in museums, women’s fibre work – the focus of this exhibition – is rarely seen outside the region. This collection of church arts was made specially for the museum by Keenok women of Sawa Erma, Asmat, commissioned by Cambridge-based student Tom Powell Davies as part of his doctoral field research (2017-18). 

The exhibition was curated by Tom Powell Davies and Sophie Hopmeier with the assistance of Anita Herle.

MAA is open to the public Tuesday – Saturday 10.00am - 5.00pm and Sunday 12.00- 5.00pm

Entry is free but you will need to pre-book your ticket to visit the museum.  For more information see


Pir natal (Christmas mat) showing Mary giving birth in a traditional Asmat forest camp. Mary is flanked by Joseph and surrounded by all the things that are most important in Asmat life. Collected by Tom Powell Davies in 2018.  MAA 2020.15 

Ravaela Ep directs Virginia Tómbair and Bibiana Kákan in the painting of a pir mat for the museum. Photo by Tom Powell Davies, 2018