Pierre Nachbaur

Insulindia at the Musée du quai Branly, by Philippe Bourgoin

Home to approximately 8,000 works, the Insulindian collection at the Musée du Quai Branly (MQB) is composed of works gathered by navigators and travellers during the 18th and 19th centuries, in addition to pieces from important field campaigns led by French anthropologists. This archipelago, which possesses incredible cultural diversity, is linked to Oceania due to the shared linguistic relations of their populations of Austronesian origin. Practices such as headhunting, references to ancestors and myths of the original pirogue can also be found in these two areas. These tribal societies were influenced by Islam in the 15th century, then by the Spanish as early as the 16th century, followed by the Dutch, who established colonies and trading posts in the region. Trading is one of the characteristics of this area, as it was located on Chinese, Indian and Indonesian trade routes.


The tour suggested to visitors guides them through several stages, beginning with the populations’ relations with the Beyond, by means of the exhibition of an exceptional collection of stone sculptures including penji funerary steles from Sumba, figures riding imaginary creatures from Sumatra, and statues of clan founders from Sumba and Lombok.

As the visitors progress through the tour, the focus shifts to the inhabitants’ more intimate relations with their ancestors, with displays of splendid altars from the Moluccas, tau tau effigies from Sulawesi and a wide range of beautiful cultural objects from the Batak in Sumatra. The warrior civilization of Nias Island was strictly hierarchical and it also honoured its forefathers by means of magnificent small adu zatua ancestor figures. On one hand, the mythology of early times is connoted by means of objects that gracefully portray animals endowed with protective powers, such as the singa in Sumatra, naga in Borneo and lasara in Nias; on the other, the aesthetics revealed in the beautifully-embroidered textiles and adornments originating from this myriad of islands, the remarkable jewellery made of gold, silver or mother-of-pearl are of a totally different nature, serving to identify the social position of individuals. Let us not forget that despite the fact that these statues and masks are now motionless, fixed in the spotlights of the museum, they were originally created as vibrant, integral elements of commemorations, great celebrations or frenetic dances.

Main image:
Statue d'ancêtre Adu Zatua
Île de Nias, 19th century
Bois, 55,7 cm

© Musée du Quai Branly (Inventory no. 70.1999.3.1)
Photo: H. Dubois


  • — Effigie funéraire tau tau
    Toraja, Sulawesi, 20th century
    Bois, cotton and pigments, 169 cm
    © Musée du quai Branly (Invent. no. 70.2001.207.318.1-13), ex-coll. Musée Barbier-Mueller (Genève)

  • — Ornement de front lado
    Nage, île Flores, 20th century
    50 cm
    © Musée du quai Branly (Invent. no. 70.2001.27.709), ex-Coll. Musée Barbier-Mueller (Genève)
    Photo: P. Gries

  • — Masque d’esprit hudoq
    Borneo, Kalimantan, beginning of 20th century
    Bois et polychromie
    © Musée du quai Branly (Invent. no. 70.2001.27.234)

  • — "Le plateau des collections insulinde"
    Statue d’ancêtre en pierre calcaire gowe salawa entourée de deux sièges en pierre osa osa ornés de têtes de lasara.
    Île de Nias
    © Musée du quai Branly

  • — Cuillère
    Nord de Luçon, Cordillère, Ifugao, Hapao, 18th/19th century
    Bois, 18,5 cm
    © Musée du quai Branly (Invent. no. 70.2001.27.430), ex-coll. Musée Barbier-Mueller (Genève)
    Photo: C. Germain