This site brings together the publications of Dr. Sara Niner about people & politics in Timor-Leste.

08 October, 2010

Danilo Henriques Speech at 'XANANA' Dili Launch 2010

Bonoite no Kalan kmanek. Ohin kalan ita mai atu hasoru malu no rekonyese esforsu ida bot katak hau nia maluk ida, Sara Niner, realiza ona atu hakerek historia ida importante tebetebes kona ba ita nia rai no ita nia ema nia historia. Historia kona ba ema ida, mane ida, nebe ita hotu konyese no ita hotu hanoin ita konyese: ohin loron, ita nia Primeiru Ministru, Sr. Xanana Gusmao.
 Tanba Sara ema ida husi rai seluk, no ema ida ne’ebe koalia liafuan ingles, hau husu ita bot sira nia permisaun atu koalia iha liafuan ingles.

Good evening, and welcome.

Permit me all the indulgence to recount my own little short story. Growing up in suburban Melbourne in the 1980s and 90s was about as far removed as you could get from the realities of life in Timor between the period of 1975 and 1999: far removed from hiding up in Mount Ramelau, holed up in a cave in Bauro or conducting clandestine meetings in Dili.
But the solidarity always existed.  Whether you were a Timor oan or a malae. From East Timor solidarity groups in Melbourne to New York, Lisbon and many other cities around the globe, we were one in our shared commitment and determination for the realization of self-determination of the Timorese people.

It was in this context that Sara Niner and I first crossed paths in 1993. In working together on a project to learn from the experiences of one of the leaders of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front to organizing fund-raising Aussie Rules Football matches for the cause, an incredibly strong friendship was being formed as a by-product of our mutual activism, deep respect for the figures of the liberation and for Xanana Gusmao. We demonstrated when Xanana was captured and we cried together when he gave an impassioned speech over a loudspeaker transmitted at the top of Bourke Street at the steps of Parliament house in Melbourne in 1999. Little belief and sense did I have at the time whilst demonstrating up and down the main streets in Melbourne, that Timor would be where it is today, and that we would be standing here Sara.

Timor, its people and Xanana existed in another dimension: on banners, photographs, t-shirts and postcards. I first met Xanana on the front of a tshirt, Sara met him in Salemba, Jakarta, under house arrest in 1998. He was then, as is the case now, the voice and aspirations of our people.
Xanana once said, “it was not Xanana, it was the people”, and it is on the pages of this biography that those stories are also revealed.

The product of 12 years of scholarly study interspersed with having a child, working and finally completing a thesis have resulted in a work of great depth, understanding and clarity. The commitment and vision to distil 100,000 words of a thesis into a coherent, engaging and insightful account of ‘Xanana, Leader of the Struggle for Independent Timor-Leste’ is nothing short of a remarkable effort.

It is the journey not only of a remarkable man, but also of a remarkable people and land and the events that have shaped all of our lives.

Sara Niner has dedicated the biography to “all the veterans and those who suffered during the struggle for independent Timor-Leste: women and men; young and old”.

Her gift is to us all, and especially to Timorese, of all ages, for the ages: I grew up getting to know my people and my homeland a little better by reading the stories written by close family friends and authors in Melbourne, Cliff Morris, Michelle Turner and others,

So let me take this (public) opportunity to express my deepest gratitude and sincerest admiration to Sara Niner for this enduring and invaluable gift of documenting and retelling such a large and important part of Timorese history through the story of Xanana.

And in closing, for her enduring friendship.

Parabens e Obrigado wa’in Sara.

05 October, 2010

Presentation of New Chaper: Between Earth and Heaven: the Politics of Gender in Timor-Leste Latrobe Uni 2011

 This paper will be presented at The Centre for Dialogue, La Trobe University Seminar Series, in 2011

Between Earth and Heaven: the Politics of Gender in Timor-Leste

This chapter will debate the central issues surrounding gender in the contemporary post-conflict environment of Timor-Leste. Understandings of what it is to be a man or a woman are central to these issues and underlay the everyday experiences of people. At the heart of the many challenges surrounding gender in Timor is how understandings of female and male in indigenous culture have evolved throughout Timorese history to shape the modern gender roles and relations that exist today. An illustration of indigenous understandings comes from a myth of the Mambai people who recount the beginnings of humankind from a union between Mother Earth, or ‘Ina Lu’, and Father Heaven, represented by the sun, the God-like Maromak, the Shining One (Traube 1995:46). In this myth, Ina Lu first gave birth to Tata Mai Lau, the highest and most sacred of mountains, and then to all other natural elements and living things. She came to rest with her feet firmly pressing back the waters in the north, calming and controlling the female sea but leaving her back to the unrestrained and wild male sea which is feared and treacherous (Traube 1986:39; Thatcher 1993:64; Gomes 2001:105). This and other such beliefs provide an insight into the complementary relations between men and women permeating indigenous Timorese thought and what this means for the everyday lives of men and women today.


Bisoi—a woman of resistance: recognition of women veteran’s in Timor-Leste

... What is very upsetting is that the discrimination is from our own partners in the struggle… (Bisoi Interview 2010)
In Timor-Leste today women combatants who served the nationalist movement for independence (1974-1999) have been treated with discrimination historically and as an afterthought in the process of recognizing veterans. How a post-war society treats its female veterans is a significant indicator on the status and future of women in that society (c.f Enloe 2004). In Timor-Leste women who served either directly in the guerrilla army Falintil as combatants or those who carried out military support roles have not been recognised and rewarded adequately or appropriately, unlike their male colleagues. This issue is being elaborated here by taking a biographical approach. This approach has the advantage of providing an exploration of a woman’s political involvement from her own perspective illuminating the experiences of women more fully.
Rosa de Camara is better known by her resistance code name of Bisoi. She is one of the women who served the nationalist movement bravely and continuously but she feels her role has not been fully recognized. She is now a member of parliament and is still fighting for women’s rights in society and for better treatment of women combatants. This paper will trace her personal story along with supplying the historical context for her comments including a gender analysis of this evidence. It will conclude with some documentation of the process of veteran recognition. Previous evaluation reports have not focused on a gender analysis of this process and this paper provides the first in depth investigation in this regard and explains why the veterans recognition process has not been fair for women.

This paper was delivered at the 10th Women in Asia Conference at ANU 1 October 2010


A VERSION WILL ALSO BE PUBLISHED IN UPCOMING BOOK: 'Women in Nationalist Movements in Southeast Asia' editing by Helen Ting and Susan Blackburn

Seminar Summario OINSA BARLAKE MUDA IHA TIMOR LESTE? Is barlake changing in Timor-Leste?

Seminar husi Dr. Sara Niner, Monash University
Is barlake changing in Timor-Leste?
Haksesuk depois ba panel Timor Oan
Followed by discussion from Timorese panel.
Universidade Timor-Leste (UNTL) Dili 24 Sept

Sumário: Pratika lisan ka adat neébe hadulas serimonia kaben sira no relasaun entre familias ka uma lulik husi parte noeiva no noeivo sira hanaran barlake. Ida neé hamaruk relasaun ajuda malu sira entre famila husi feto no mane no kontinuasaun de troka sasan ba malu e fahe servisu iha tempu lia mate ou lia moris. Barlake ne’e nu’udar parte ida husi sistema bo’ot ida (adat ka lisan) ne’ebe regula sosiadade indígena ho nia objetivu hodi hametin solidariedade no armonia. Embora iha diferensa barak entre grupu etno-lingistíku ne’ebe distintu iha Timor, maibe barak mak iha fiar no estrutura socsial hanesan. Ba ema barak iha Timor, Barlake no lisan fo sensasaun makas ida konaba identidade no valor ba sira nia moris. Tuir tradisional relasaun entre feto no mane ne’e kompleta malu, maibe baseia ba dominasaun mane no feto sai hanesan subordinada. Hadiak balun ba situasaun ida ne’e, ba maioria feto sira tem ke halo liu husi pratika sira hanesan barlake.Seidauk tan komplexidade no variedade husi barlake, ladun dokumenta ho diak, no peskisa konaba oinsa barlake afeta ba feto sira nia vida seidauk too ba objektivu ida ne’e.
Influensia estrangeiru, hanesan religiaun katólika iha Timor Leste, afeta no muda lisan ka barlake, maibe ao mesmo tempu influensia estrangeira sira ne’e mos adopta-an  tiha ba lalaok tradisaun Timor Leste  nian. Desordem ba família sira no vida ekonómika ne’ebe kausa husi okupasaun Indonésia (1975 – 1999) no ejijénsia iha periúdu rekonstrusaun, destina kom ke família barak dala barak hahu la konsege kompleta pedidu Barlake nian ka sai hanesan todan ida ba família ne’ebe depois lori ema ba frustasaun, iha situsaun ida ke todan tiha ona ambiente post-komflitu. Ohin loron, hanesan iha fatin barak iha mundo, ema la halao ona kostume tradisaun sira, hanesan barlake maibe sira uja sira nia rekursu sira hodi selu edukasaun moderna no asistensia saúde, ho mos uma, kareta, no produtu moderno sira seluk. Ho rasaun ida ne’e, ohin loron iha mudansa signifikante iha Timor Leste. Barlake mos sai hanesan objektu de atake ida ba feto activista sira tamba nia afeta feto sira nia moris. Ohin loron, kritisismu sentral maka, barlake sai tiha ona nu’udar “noeiva nia folin” deit,  ne’ebe halo ita hare hanesan feto no nia fertilidade selu tiha ona no trata feto hanesan produtu ida. Seidauk tan Lia nain sira hateten katak , troka/folin ne’ebe iha barlake ne’ebe los tem ke hanesan, no haforsa relasaun entre familia sira. Aumentu iha uja osan inves de produtu tradisionais iha prosesu fo folin iha barlake, hanesan karau, kafe, fahi ou tais diminue valor prosesu ne’e, halo Barlake hanesan prosesu sosa feto  ida do ke kostume importante kultural ida. Investigasaun ida oinsa barlake muda no oinsa nia afeta ba feto sira nia moris no sira nia familia bele asiste iha hetan solusaun ba impaktu negativu balun.

How is Barlake changing in Timor-Leste?

Abstract: In Timor-Leste indigenous customary practices that surround marriage and relations between the families or clans of the bride and groom are called barlake. Barlake creates relationships of life-long commitment of mutual support between the families of the bride and groom and an ongoing exchange of goods and duties in the context of ritual life and death ceremonies. These practices are integral to a wider, complex system of social action and ritual exchange that regulates indigenous society and aims to build social solidarity and harmony. Although there are many differences between distinct ethno-linguistic groups in Timor most share very similar cosmological beliefs and social structure. Gender relations, while complementary, are marked by the domination of males and subordination of females. However for most people in Timor-Leste these practices engender a deep sense of identity and meaning. Any significant improvements to the lives of the majority of women must be made through an engagement with these indigenous or ‘traditional’ practices. Yet the complexity and variability of barlake systems is little documented and research about its everyday impact on women’s lives is sorely inadequate for this purpose.
The spread of Catholicism in Timor-Leste and the impact of modernity have degraded indigenous practices to varying degrees, but conversely these foreign influences have also simply become synthesized into indigenous systems. The disruption to family and economic life caused by the Indonesian occupation (1975-1999) including the final conflagration of 1999 and the challenging reconstruction period, has meant that many families often cannot begin or complete this exchange process or that the exchange becomes a burden for families leading to angst and frustration in an already tough post-conflict environment. Today, as is the trend in many societies, individuals are opting out of traditional practices, like barlake, in favor of using their available resources to pay for modern education and health services, along with more contemporary homes and commodities. For these reasons there are significant changes to barlake in Timor-Leste today. Barlake has also come under attack from the modern women’s movement because of the way it affects the lives of women. The main criticism today is that an uneven exchange of goods, favoring the bride’s family, encourages the perception that women and their fertility are being bought and subsequently treated as a commodity. Yet traditional authorities contend that legitimate barlake exchanges are equal. There is also a sense that the increasing use of money in place of the traditional exchange items, such as buffalo, coffee, pigs, jewellery and hand-woven textiles (tais) is degrading the process, making it seem more akin to a commodity exchange than a meaningful cultural practice. An investigation of how practices are changing and the effects on the lives of men and women may assist in finding solutions to some of these negative impacts.