RUI GRAÇA FEIJÓ:
THE HONOURABLE DEAD AND THE FATE OF THE LIVING.
NOTES ON THE POLITICS OF MEMORY AND THE PROCESS OFNATION-BUILDING IN TIMOR-LESTE.
Date & Time
4. 8. 2021, 15:00 CEST
From December 1975 to October 1999, Timor-Leste suffered a neo-colonial occupation by Indone-sia. In the height of the Cold War, the brutality of foreign domination went mostly silenced, but it is now estiamted that up to 200,000 people lost their lives either as a result of direct aggression or by indirect means like starvation or sanitary conditions, representing more than a quarter of the popu-lation of 1975 (670,000). Indonesia occupation was opposed by a fierce Resistance. The referendum held on 30 August 1999 returned a victory for independence with 78.5% of the vote. During the oc-cupation, in the words of Nobel Peace Laureate Bishop Ximenes Belo, the Indonesians carried out “cultural genocide”. Many manifestations of popular culture were banned. After political independ-ence was achieved cultural freedom was re-established. All over Timor-Leste one finds signs of a renewed cult of the dead, namely those who passed away in dire circumstances and were not duly honoured. Lack of ceremonial respect entails that the survivors may fall prey to the ancestors’ revenge, and the security of their livelihood is not guaranteed. Apart from being considered ances-tors and, as such, “potent dead”, those who fell in the national liberation struggle are especially cherished as “heroes”. The state has dedicated several initiatives to honour those who fell for the good of the nascent nation including them in an embrace to strengthen the sentiment of be-longing to a common cause. Grassroots movements purport to complement, develop or contradict the national grand narrative. If material gains are to be derived from the reconnaissance of the status of “martyrs of the fatherland”, another dimension is equally present: the conquest of prestige, reputation and social status. The dead who passed away during the Resistance struggle are thus immersed in two pro-cesses: to be duly honoured as ancestors who have the power to influence the livelihood of their surviving relatives, and to be counted among the “heroes” without whom nationhood would not have been achieved, projecting a benevolent shadow over their relatives in terms of honour and social status.
Rui Graça Feijó concluded undergraduate studies in History (Coimbra 1978), a DPhil in Modern History (Oxford 1984) and a Habilitation in Democracy in the 21st century (Coimbra 2017). Research Fellow at Centre for Social Studies (Coimbra) and Institute for Contemporary History (NOVA University of Lisboa). Over the last 15 years he dedicated his research towards the history, politics and society of Timor-Leste, which he visits frequently. Monographs include Dynamics of Democracy in Timor-Leste (AUP 2016) and Presidents in Semi-presidential Regimes (Palgrave 2020). Co-editor of Transformations in Independent Timor-Leste (Routledge 2017) and The Dead as Ancestors, Martyrs and Heroes (AUP 2020).