Subject: ApT: East Timor heritage pillaged
Date: Fri, 12 Mar 1999 18:23:03 -0500
From: Bruno Kahn <>

This article appeared originally in French in the March 1999 Agir pour Timor bulletin.

East Timorese heritage pillaged

The East Timorese anthropologist Justino Guterres, who prepares a PhD in the University of Porto, held a conference on the disappearance of centuries-old traditions, everyday life objects, jewels and objects d'art in East Timor. He distinguishes between two types of cultural heritage:

-- The Portuguese colonial heritage, appearing in toponymy, monuments and the use of the Portuguese language. It is claimed with force by most East Timorese, as a symbol of resistance to the occupation and national cohesion. It is a target for the Indonesian government, which has banned the use of Portuguese language in East Timor.

-- Traditional heritage. Its main features are dressing, jewels, habitat and rituals. Justino Guterres draws an alarming inventory of traditions and objects disappearing from East Timor's everyday life. Dressing and ornaments, when they have whatever value, are sold by East Timorese who have no other choice to be able to subsist. Examples are gold or silver jewels like brooches used to close the traditional dress, fineries or blades transmitted from generation to generation within families. Sometimes, these are simply robbed from them. The ceremonies that rhythm the East Timorese life are disappearing. Births, marriages and burials, just as the cyclic celebrations related to agriculture, are less and less celebrated. This is due to general impoverishment and the displacement of the rural population towards urban centres, where it quickly abandons its traditions. Traditional habitat is also disappearing. Indonesian military operations have damaged numerous villages which are not reconstructed afterwards. The houses that escaped destruction are the target of pillagers who take doors, windows and the friezes ornating the facades.

The Indonesian army, which is at the origin of this process of acculturation of the East Timorese, is however not the sole to blame. Ivo Carneiro da Souza, from the Faculty of Literature of Porto, claims that the pillaging is organised by smugglers and collectors from Western countries. According to him, certain antique dealers in Paris get regular arrivals from East Timor.

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