Events: Kritika Kultura Lecture Series presents Kar-Yen Leong

July 14, 2019

Kritika Kultura, the international refereed journal of language, literary, and cultural studies of the Department of English, Ateneo de Manila University, will host a lecture by Kar-Yen Leong. The lecture—titled "Keepers of the Grave: Ritual Guides, Ghosts, and Hidden Narratives in Indonesian History"—is on Aug. 6, 2019, from 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., at SEC B 201A, Ateneo de Manila University. The event is open to the public. 

About the lecture 

Within Javanese culture, the juru kunci or gatekeeper is an essential intermediary between the dead and the living. Devotees often approach these individuals to enjoy the fruits of divine blessings especially in visits to the graves of Muslim saints. These gatekeepers, according to scholars, also form a bridge between the past and present, acting as living "archives" filled with oral historical accounts of legendary and historical figures. More importantly these gatekeepers are part of a wider spectrum where they serve as intermediaries between those seeking supernatural favours and spirits which inhabit "potent" landscapes.  Such potent sites include suspected mass graves of between 500,000 to one million individuals alleged dissidents whom during the 1965 pogroms of the Indonesian Communist Party, were incarcerated and "disappeared" all across the Indonesian archipelago. 

But as public discussions over the existence of Indonesia’s killing fields grows, these sites are also increasingly becoming important repositories of an unspoken history. This paper investigates the role played by the juru kunci of several mass graves specifically in central Java. It asks: how do these keepers of the grave, through their connection with the ghostly presence of their former comrades elucidate a past which continues to be silenced in Indonesia? As former communists and political detainees themselves these gatekeepers have taken on the role of not only keeping the "spirit" of their fellow communists alive but to also allow their "voices" to speak through them. Through contact with the souls of executed dissidents, these gatekeepers utilize an ethereal "connection" as way to to subvert the state’s enforced silence over the 1965 pogroms as well as their subsequent stigmatization. These gatekeepers serve as important custodians of an important part of Indonesia’s history and provide the necessary oral historical material for a localized form of "reconciliation." I posit that the case study of these gatekeepers allows us to understand such processes from a micro perspective which larger grander narratives have largely ignored. 

About the lecturer

Kar-Yen Leong is an assistant professor at the Department of Global Politics and Economics in Tamkang University (Taiwan). Trained in Southeast Asian Studies, Dr. Leong conducts research on issues pertaining to memory, human rights and politics and how they intersect in Southeast Asia. He has taught in Malaysia and Taiwan and has articles in the Taiwan Journal of Human Rights and in 2019, in Kritika Kultura

About Kritika Kultura

Kritika Kultura is acknowledged by a host of Asian and Asian American Studies libraries and scholarly networks, and indexed in the MLA International Bibliography, Arts and Humanities Citation Index (Clarivate), Scopus, EBSCO, the Directory of Open Access Journals, and the International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs (ICCTP). For inquiries about submission guidelines and future events, visit or email

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