Accepted Paper:

Negotiating culture: discourses on tradition and social change in Timor Leste  


Maria Jesús Pena Castro (Universidad de Salamanca)

Paper short abstract:

Timor Leste is living a rapid social and economic change which is bringing into question the role, scope and significance of the traditional practices. In this context different actors propose contrasting definitions of “Cultura”. This paper describes the process of negotiation between contrasting discourses, the changes in the meaning of the traditional heritage and the achievement of a new social consensus.

Paper long abstract:

Timor Leste is living a rapid social change: urban migration, embeddedment in a monetary economy and the blurring of the traditional lineage system.

Emically the concept "Cultura" or "Lia" involves, among other things, practices, rituals and a complex system of values and interchanges, mediating the relation between entitities; namely spirits, ancestors, kin groups, authorities and every social actors. As such, this Intangible Heritage structures society, economy and life.

Social and economic changesare challenging traditional cultural practices and bring into question the legitimacy of the power of ritual authorities, since the increasing use of money in the ritual exchanges raises a conflict with the emerging urban middle class. To deal with this conflict,the different social actors negotiate the redefinition of Cultura and its role in modern life.

The negotiation of the significance, meaning and uses of traditional "Lia" heritage has come across different stages. Different discourses fulfilled the aims of different agendas and interests: from the Catholic Church, to the State and International Institutions, the traditional authorities or the emerging middle classes. The negotiation is producing new contents and scopes for this Heritage, reformulating its role in the changing society.

This paper analyses this process and the new trends in the negotiation, which includes voices from the expertise knowledge, allowing the achievement ofa new balance that brings a redefinition of this cultural heritage in the contemporary society. From this perspective, the final purpose of this dialectical process of discursive negotiationswould be the integration between the new social conditions and the enrooted Worldview thattakes into custody the legitimacy of the social system.

Panel P06
Intangible heritage and the challenges for the theory and practice of anthropology