Accepted Paper:

Death and reciprocity in East Timor  
Andrew McWilliam (Western Sydney University)

Paper short abstract:

This presentation considers how ritual management of death makes visible the relational networks of a household's social field, and through continuing practices of sacrificial invocation and commensality with the dead, generates mimetic conditions for protective ancestral blessings and well-being.

Paper long abstract:

In contemporary Timor-Leste the overwhelming majority of people identify as Catholic and participate in a rich tapestry of religious events and life cycle transitions that punctuate the annual calendar; from baptisms and confirmation, to the worship of saints and holy days. But across the mountains and hinterland of the island, widespread conversion to Catholicism only occurred following the Indonesian invasion in 1975 when many Timorese were obliged to relinquish long standing ancestral religious practices in favour of an approved world religion. In the decade and more since independence, however, there has been a widespread revival of indigenous religious practices, particularly in rural areas, where sacrificial veneration of ancestors and the memorialisation of the dead has been a preoccupation for many poor households working to rebuild their livelihoods and communities. These developments do not deny Catholicism but are best viewed as complementary strategies of religious invocation designed to attain common ends. In this presentation I consider how the ritual management of death makes visible the relational networks of a household's social field, and through continuing practices of sacrificial invocation and commensality with the dead, generates the mimetic conditions for protective ancestral blessings and well-being. I draw on aspects of Fataluku ethnography to illustrate the argument.

Panel P25
The dead in social life: death in the (re) constitution of sociality of the still living