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.
THIS CHAPTER WILL BE PUBLISHED IN A NEW BOOK ABOUT TIMOR-LESTE edited by Damina Kingsbury and Micheal Leech