A connection to the past

The island of Timor has a long, proud history and a rich culture built over centuries. Many different ethnic influences have contributed to the island’s development.

Even though Timor-Leste is a small nation, when we observe the daily activities of communities and observe them at work or in the continuation of cultural values and rituals it can be said that the people of Timor-Leste have a great deal of local knowledge. The application of this knowledge can be seen in phenomena such as tides and fishing, the protection of marine resources, the conservation of forests and fresh water resources, farming and tending traditional lands, agricultural systems such as tilling rice paddies and irrigation systems, raising animals and hunting, traditional medicines, housing technologies, the technique of production of clothing (Tais) and the capacity to communicate with the powers of nature or predicting future social, cultural economic political or ecological phenomena.Rituals and behaviors relate to various concept that relate to daily lives as well as significant events such as the naming ritual for new born babies, giving of thanks to ancestors for keeping illnesses away from their descendents, the preparation of land prior to the planting of crops, the important rituals regarding sacred houses once they are built, rituals concerning the weather and climate and many more. The same kinds of practices can be seen throughout all of Timor-Leste.On of the important terms for local mechanisms demonstration sustainable development, concepts and practises can be found in the terminology relating to the tara bandu.

Sacred Houses

The term uma lulik refers to the symbolic representation of a descent group (uma lisan). It is a symbol for descent group and those other groups that have a direct or indirect relation with it (such as between fetosaa and umane – wife-givers and wife-takers). It means that the uma lulik is a symbol of the larger family, its history and its relationship with the land on which it rests. Timor-Leste has many different methods of architecture and construction. From a material perspective it is a building made mostly of natural materials such as local hardwoods, arenga pinnata fiber rope and bamboo.

The uma lulik of Timor-Leste a repository of the ceremonies and rituals of its peoples. It also provides a scenario for the adoration of rocks and plants and as the place for people of one descent group to communicate with their ancestors.

Who are the custodians of traditional knowledge

To understand traditional knowledge is acknowledge that while many people have traditional knowledge there are always people who know than others about specific things. A relevant example is comparing a person that lives in a coastal area and fishes for a living to one that lives in the mountains and farms. There are also people who live in the same place but have different traditional knowledge. This is also influenced by the social structure or the social roles of individuals and their specialist role.Specialists include carpentry, story telling (lia nain), village chiefs, medics, catechists, teachers and soothsayers (matan dook). They are are called upon as needed depending on the situation.


Tais are made through a range of processes including: starting with spinning cottoon balls in to thread, then using plants to make natural dyes to colour the thread, soaking the thread in the dyes that have already been produced natural,local materials. Following that the thread is oiled to fix the dyes and finally the tais is woven from the looms which can be quite large depending on the size and complexity of the design.

Traditional tais are made in all of the districts of Timor-Leste. In each district there is local knowledge that is unique through processes of weaving and colouring the thread. There are many differences in the methods and recipes (plants) used for preparing the dyes for thread. In communities that weave Tais, the majority use processes that were passed down from their ancestors that they still use today albeit sometimes combining artificial dyes and synthetic thread from the modern time. The biggest differences between districts can be seen in the motifs, patterns and colour combinations.

Tara bandu refers to a traditional Timorese custom that enforces peace and reconciliation through the power of public agreement to define social norms and practices acceptable to a given community.

Communities defined tara bandu as a traditional and common practice with the means to reduce or prevent community conflict, reduce crime, to protect the environment and manage natural resources. In addition Taru bandu improves community welfare through art and rituals, and a system of community leadership and governance.

The process of forming tara bandu is a process of coming to communal agreement or ‘social contract’ that outlines the behaviours and practices that members of the community deem to be appropriate and want to enforce. As such, the legitimacy of the tara bandu is largely dependent on the degree of local level consultation and engagement in the generation and consecration of the terms of this communal accord.

Given the ethno-linguistic diversity in Timor-Leste, there are also different descriptors used across the country for tara bandu entailing nuances specific to each region. For example, Fataluku-speaking communities prefer to use the word “sikua” which refers to the harmonization of people.

Both traditionally and contemporarily, tara bandu involves the hanging of culturally significant items from a wooden shaft to place a ban on certain agricultural or social activities within a given area. Often the items hung are those prohibited through the tara bandu, for example a cutting from a symbolic tree and the skull or bones from an animal sacrificed during a tara bandu ceremony. Tara bandu commonly include the holding of a large public ceremony, “usually following a public meeting that determines particular sanctions or fines for particular activities”. Punishment for breaking the conditions of a tara bandu can take the form of both physical sanctions and abstract “supernatural” repercussions, such as from spells cast upon those who contravene the “regulations” of the tara bandu, depending on the cultural context.

Historically, tara bandu were used, including during both the periods of Portuguese colonial and Indonesian military occupation, as a means to enforce local governance systems and control the population. Since Timor-Leste’s vote for Independence in 1999, tara bandu have enjoyed resurgence particularly since the 2006 crisis. Many cases adjudicated through tara bandu regulations are addressed through the intervention of xefe de suku and xefe de aldeia alone. While in others the community police (PNTL) have a role in supporting the xefe de suku, according to those regulations.