As noted in the introduction, an island-wide comparative analysis based on the textiles of both East and West Timor was beyond the scope of this paper. An attempt to address this imbalance constituted the focus of Chapter Two. The discussion here focused on the symbolic values attributed to cloth by the people of Timor, with specific reference to East Timor. During the timeframe in which this aspect of the study was based, Europeans were yet to establish a power base of any authority on the island. The chapter focused on two Timor-wide rituals in which cloth played a part, the marital gift exchange and the ceremonies attached to headhunting. Despite the existence of many small and separate kingships throughout the island, the similarity
1 Lefferts, H. Leedom, op. cit., 1992, p. 416 82
of such rituals throughout Timor suggests an overarching unity in terms of both aesthetics and symbolism. The division of the island by the Dutch and the Portuguese was briefly explored in this chapter, in an effort to demonstrate the arbitrary nature in which East Timor became a separate state, later retaining this autonomy during the Indonesian period by becoming a separate province.
The ensuing section, Chapter Three, was concerned with analysing concepts of tradition and identity in East Timor with respect to historical precedent. This chapter took a step back from textiles to look at the broader issues which they raise. The labelling of any given textile as ‘traditional’ raises, firstly, the question of what is meant here by that term, as well as concerns relating to just which identity this tradition is attempting to preserve and promote. As mentioned in the brief literature review of the introduction, the prevailing historical discourse has presented East Timorese traditions in opposition to Indonesian patterns, drawing on such patterns only to define East Timorese traditions as singular and distinct. While this opposition between East Timor and Indonesia reflects East Timorese beliefs related to complementary dichotomies, the presentation of East Timorese traditions as polar opposites to all that was represented by Indonesian traditions is not only unjustified but also uninformed.
Another related problem raised in the literature review lay in the definition, and explanations given for the development, of an East Timorese identity. The defining of identity in East Timorese historical discourse has faced two important challenges. Firstly, the heterogeneous composition of East Timor’s population has failed to provide a definitive ethnic or linguistic base upon which such identities are
typically based. Secondly, military and political histories have dominated and gendered the general historical discourse, colouring concepts of identity with a distinct bias. Exploring the various ways the female and the feminine are subordinated in masculine discourse has been an important objective of this thesis, and is here tested through an engagement with these textiles, by which textual imbalances and biases can be addressed.
Retrospective analysis has been identified in this study as the primary method by which distinct and singular conceptions of tradition and identity have legitimised themselves. Yet even in their current manifestations, these traditions and identities connect East Timor with Indonesian models. The definition of an East Timorese identity as separate from Indonesian histories cannot be substantiated, yet it represents one of the strongest reasons for which East Timorese rights to independence and autonomy have been argued by those supporting independence for East Timor.
Chapter Four looked at the contribution currently being made by textiles to the contested issues of identities and traditions. On various levels, from the local to the international, East Timorese textiles are increasingly active participants in the nationalist discourse. As in the past, textiles continue to be a medium through which people come together; the establishment of weaving co-operatives has ensured this, as well as provided many other far-reaching benefits such as employment and an outlet for creativity. Attempts to preserve an East Timorese past, in the form of these weaving co-operatives, have responded dynamically to changing circumstances, as seen in the participation, though still limited, of men in this domain. While the dominance of political, colonial and military histories in East Timor has altered our perceptions of change and its relationship with tradition, this imbalance has also lent a
Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, London: Verso, 1983
male bias to the discourse. Lefferts writes that the analysis of textiles is useful in reconfiguring cultural systems from a female perspective; textiles have been used in this paper to present East Timorese histories, and aspects of East Timorese culture, in women’s terms.
So how can East Timorese textiles inform the historian’s understanding of tradition and identity? These concepts are closely related, yet for the sake of clarity they will be explored separately here. Regarding tradition, there are certainly ongoing patterns in East Timor related to the creation of textiles; these patterns encompass technical aspects of production, such as the use of natural dyes and hand-spun cotton, as well as the cosmological beliefs of the weaver and the society in which she lived. Tradition can best be defined in relation to East Timorese textiles as an on-going pattern of response to changing circumstances; adapting to new technologies and influences does not mean traditional patterns are necessarily being lost. Within a contemporary setting, it is important that East Timorese weavers are allowed the space to adapt and respond to their present socio-cultural situation; labelling a textile as traditional because it uses symbolic motifs indicates a narrow understanding of what tradition means in this context.
As various definitions of the term traditional are established, so too are formulations of identity being created. The selective use of the past to legitimise independence within East Timor has been demonstrated in the preceding chapters; as a result, this study could be seen to represent a challenge to the prevailing nationalist discourse. Yet it has not been this paper’s intention to negate East Timor’s rights to independence in any way. It is hoped, instead, that this paper has added another voice to the already dynamic dialogue relating to East Timorese identities. This has been
3 Lefferts, H. Leedom, op. cit., 1992, p. 406
attempted through an examination of the role played by colonial histories in distancing East Timor from its regional context, and thus contributing to the development of a distinctly nationalist sentiment, in conjunction with the recognition of the many connections between East Timorese and Indonesian histories.