Accepted Paper:

Multivalent death: understanding the significance of death for the still living in Timor-Leste  
Damian Grenfell (RMIT University)

Paper short abstract:

Death marks a vital moment in the re/constitution of social relations in contemporary Timor-Leste. Death is important for the still living where the multivalent character of ritual and remembering is a central factor in the regeneration of social ties.

Paper long abstract:

Ancestral spirits are so fundamental to basic conceptions of a good life in Timor-Leste. The ancestral spirits have the power to shape the condition of the still-living; sickness, poor fortune, calamity and even death are commonly attributed to ancestors. Following war, where the remains of thousands have been lost and the familial networks of the living ruptured, paying recognition to the dead becomes an immense challenge for those still with 'breath'. This paper considers the dead of war, but extends the analysis to the impact on the still living of deaths that occur from both natural and unnatural causes outside of warfare. By examining patterns of exchange, labour (production), communications and organisation (such as authority and regulatory roles) as they connect people across practices pertaining to understanding (ie the cause of death, what happens at death), conveying (the movement of the body), mortuary practice and familial ritual, this paper will explore the argument that it is the 'multivalent' dimensions of death that sustains the importance given to it in Timorese society. Rituals for instance may be described as 'syncretic' but in reality comprise distinct elements that speak to different needs; some are spiritual, but death also embeds social relations in a period of acute social change. This paper will then argue that death marks a vital moment in the re/constitution of social relations because it speaks to different forms spiritual regeneration for the still living, significantly but not only customary, as well as fulfilling of other social demands.

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