Gado Gado International

Timorese Society and Dwellings

Posted in Culture and History by gadogadointl on May 1, 2009

One of the most beautiful and culturally rich islands of Indonesia is Timor. There are multiple languages and dialects spoken by the indigenous people of the island, with two large groups based on a common language: the Atoni in the west, and the Tetum in the east and center of the island.

The collective ideas, customs, and institutions normally associated with these two groups are quite similar, and differences are more the result of local specificities rather than racial divides. There are a few moderately large urban areas in Timor, but the majority of the population lives in villages and hamlets, and the social structure of these groups are based mainly on male lineages.

A typical Timorese structure

A typical Timorese structure

Timorese Artistry

Timorese culture is diverse in its art, and there is a variety of different artists. Women are typically called upon to weave, incorporating the design of a god’s image into their work. The Bunaq people of Timor have bards renowned for their resourceful writing and storytelling.

Carvings are common in wood, although some artists use buffalo horn. These carvings are most often found on the doors of residences, but can also been seen on posts, ridge crests, and statues. In addition, some groups are skilled in smithing and silver working.

Women use traditional looms to craft shawls and fabrics.

Women use traditional looms to craft shawls and fabrics.

Timorese Religion and Beliefs

Timorese religion comprises a set of ritual transactions by which human individuals and social groups maintain relationships with their ancestral ghosts. For the people of Timor, the harmony between the two may be disrupted by infractions of ritual conventions. This upsetting of the cosmic order has repercussions in the human spectrum, such as illness.

Although it is unclear for the Timorese when exactly the human soul enters a body, it certainly leaves upon death, encouraged by a rite of passage. This soul leaves the secular Upperworld and joins the other ghosts and fertility spirits in the sacred Underworld. Within a few decades the dead soul becomes an ancestral ghost.

The ancestral ghosts in the Timorese religion have a hold over the behavior of human life, and in turn exploit the resources of their living kin. These ghosts crave regular offerings of betelnut, palm wine, and food from living descendants.

A typical offering of Betelnut, a natural stimulant, in basket, with a Betelnut case on edge.

A typical offering of Betelnut, a natural stimulant, in basket, with a Betelnut case on edge.

However, these ghosts also have the power to make men and women fertile, enabling their kin to reproduce. Since the ancestral ghosts require sustenance and humans require offspring, there is a relationship of reciprocity between the sacred and secular worlds.

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