In animist Southeast Asia the origins of all life, and of the skills, knowledge and materials that sustain human existence, were taught to the community’s forebears by the creating deities themselves. The most important features of landscape—from life-sustaining crops to topographical landmarks—are also the result of ancestral intervention.

Genealogies trace lineages back to significant ancestral figures as evidence of rights to superiority in the social and ritual arena of the village. More recent predecessors may also have attained the status of ancestral spirits, largely through the good offices of their living kin. Since ancestors continue to interfere, for good or ill, in everyday affairs, veneration through sacrifices, offerings, prayers and specific rites is necessary to ensure that their benevolence endures.

The creation and veneration of images of ancestors and creator beings is widespread among the peoples of Southeast Asia. The sculptures, which are attended to with great consideration, attract and are inhabited by the spirits of the dead. As ancestors are directly involved in fertility and plenty, pairs of male and female spirits are among the most prominent and important depictions.

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