Places of suffering and pathways to healing: post-conflict life in Bidau, East Timor

Field, Annette Marie (2004) Places of suffering and pathways to healing: post-conflict life in Bidau, East Timor. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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In the prelude to and aftermath of the plebiscite on 30 August 1999, in which 78.5% of East Timorese voters rejected autonomy within Indonesia and chose independence for their country, violent conflict raged throughout the country. This thesis concerns Bidau, which is an urban village located in Dili, the capital of East Timor. My central argument is that Bidau residents have been agents in their own recovery following the destruction of 1999. I stress that in seeking to understand what will assist with post-conflict recovery, we need to pay more attention to the social worlds of people affected by violence, rather than applying an individual trauma model. Accordingly, I investigate the various forms of suffering that residents experienced, including the fears of further violence, the different sicknesses, the grieving for deceased relatives and friends, the economic struggles, and the disruptions to life cycle rituals in Bidau. These diverse forms of suffering and their impacts became evident to me over twenty-six months of fieldwork in the period from 4 November 2000 to October 2003. In describing the diversity of the people who reside in the village, I distinguish three categories of residents – Portuguese Period Settlers, Indonesian Period Settlers and Post-ballot Residents – and also distinguish people from the Makassae ethnolinguistic group, who make up a quarter of the population, and span the three periods of settlement, arriving in Bidau from 1973 onwards. I explore the connections that enabled Bidau individuals and groups to find places of safety during the most violent months of 1999 and show how people who returned or moved to Bidau once order was restored relied on kin networks and other social affiliations to rebuild their lives. I argue that embeddedness in groups and guarantees of social support that Timorese customs offer facilitate and promote healing, as do some religious beliefs and practices. Participation in significant rituals, especially wedding and mortuary rites is central to the lives of Bidau residents and entails reciprocal obligations, especially between wife-givers and wife-takers. In my analysis of a delayed wedding and various mortuary rituals, I show the ability and determination of East Timorese to organise such rituals despite all they have suffered. These rituals expand social networks of support and have the potential to make and strengthen alliances. An exegesis of a lamentation performed for a recently deceased grandmother shows the complexities of the social and material obligations that East Timorese custom requires. By examining rituals in three settings – public space, the private space inside houses, and the intermediate space of verandas and gardens – I show the significance of the spatial dimensions of rituals and other practices and how these are closely related to the social processes of the household and the architectural space of the house. The reconstruction of the physical environment, especially repairs to residents’ private homes, was a critical part of the processes of recovery, as houses were needed not just for shelter, but also because they helped define ritual spaces and enabled householders to define permeable borders. Bidau residents, through their participation in rituals and other activities in shifting social spaces, created and recreated their dynamic and supportive social order.

Item ID: 1103
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Bidau, Dili, East Timor, Social worlds of people affected by violence, Participation in significant rituals, Significance of spatial dimensions of rituals, Reconstruction of the physical environment, Supportive social order, Makassae ethnolinguistic group, Portuguese period settlers, Indonesian period settlers, Post-ballot residents
Date Deposited: 19 Oct 2006
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1608 Sociology > 160805 Social Change @ 0%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1608 Sociology > 160810 Urban Sociology and Community Studies @ 0%
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