This paper takes the question of nation-formation but focusing more on its cultural dimensions to argue that death remains central to the social fabric of the living in Timor-Leste.
Since Timor-Leste’s independence in 1999, the topic of mortality has tended to be framed within broader debates on state and nation-formation of a territory that has not long fulfilled its sovereign ambitions. Whether it be a discussion of death through the re-counting of the horrific human rights abuses of the Indonesian occupation, or through the ‘development indicators’ of infant and maternal mortality or life expectancy, or as part of a discourse of those who gave their lives in the struggle, death has been a foundation for understanding the past and future of Timor-Leste.
This paper takes the question of nation-formation, at least in its more immediate and contemporary sense, but focuses more on its cultural dimensions to argue that death remains central to the social fabric of the living in Timor-Leste. Not only does the spirit world continue to reverberate through the fortunes of social life the living, but the acts of remembering—the rituals and commemorations that follow the death of a person—have the effect of reconstituting social connections in quite fundamental ways. Through commemoration death becomes constitutive of social life, as a moment of connection both between those still alive and between the living and the dead, and as such is arguably one of the most important and deeply social moments in the lives of East Timorese. This paper will be discussed in relation to the structuring and key arguments of a broader text being developed on Timor-Leste.
Speaker: Damian Grenfell
Wednesday 17 April: 12.30 pm to 2.00 pm
Emily McPherson Building, Multipurpose Room, Building 13, Level 3, Room 7