Trajectories of Human Skulls in Museum Collections

Part of the Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies Series book series (CIPCSS)


The preceding chapter described colonial headhunting in Timor as a circulatory system that interconnected European and indigenous societies. The ritual circuits of severed heads could empower the Portuguese and their allied Timorese communities. This close contact was also organized by boundaries of purity and dangers of pollution, and the Portuguese pragmatic principle of preservation of customs. Accordingly, severed heads as physical things were expected to circulate strictly within Timorese territories and to remain in the possession of Timorese communities. Thus, if the pace of colonial warfare in the nineteenth century increased and intensified the ritual circuits of decapitated heads, these tended to remain local, confined to the island. These ritual circuits, however, could be evaded, and severed heads re-networked in European circuits, outside of Timor. The following chapters of Part II will examine why and how that could succeed. This chapter initiates this inquiry with the analysis of two large consignments of Macanese and Timorese collections sent from Macao in 1880-82. The intention is to explain the travels of these collections as ‘trajectories’ of things attached to, or detached from, words.


Human Remains Museum Collection State Administration General Catalogue Human Skull 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Ricardo Nuno Afonso Roque 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Social SciencesUniversity of LisbonPortugal

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