A Mortal Peace: Death and Community in the Pursuit of a Good Life in Timor-Leste

Damian Grenfell

2RMIT, Melbourne, Australia

As has been commonly documented, it is necessary in Timor-Leste for the living to maintain the good-will of deceased ancestors so as to avoid spiritual retribution. In order to achieve a ‘good life’, the living must demonstrate care and respect for the spirits, and placate their anger if need be. The idea of a ‘good life’ has different dimensions—material and immaterial well-being, as forms of social status as well providing possible pathways for resolution—and is significantly dependent on the reproduction of what is referred to here as a form of ‘cognate community’. A cognate community is formed around affinal and consanguineal social relations that include both the living and the dead. The process of nation-formation, as a different order of community, both disrupts and enables the potential reproduction of cognate communities in profound ways; the war for national independence caused the unnatural death of tens-of-thousands of people while national independence has resulted in new systems of regulation and social hierarchies that effect if and how veneration can even occur. In both war and peace then, the process of nation-formation shapes, alters, enables and undermines the reproduction of cognate communities and the ability to pursue a good life.


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