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Outside-In: Mambai Expectations of Returning Outsiders (East Timor)

Colloquium with Prof. Elizabeth G. Traube, Department of Anthropology, Wesleyan University

Thursday, June 06, 2013
12:30 PM - 2:00 PM
Haines Hall 352
UCLA Campus
Los Angeles, CA 90095

East Timorese have proved adept at incorporating foreign strangers into local cultural orders, often using Austronesian ideas of the extrinsic origins of power to recast Portuguese colonial authorities as legitimate upholders of political rule. Inclusion was mutual, as the colonizers became entangled in local military and jural performances to enhance their symbolic power. In the indigenous viewpoint, colonial rule was drawn into a moral economy based on expectations of reciprocity. This strategy could justify defiance as well as submission, since it held outsider rulers up to standards that they rarely met. When the Portuguese administration abandoned the province in the wake of civil fighting, it seemed that the pact of reciprocity had collapsed, and when the Indonesian invaders showed no interest in renewing it, Timorese political imagination was reoriented around notions of popular sovereignty. But outsiders were still constructed as powerful allies, as I discovered when I returned in 2001. 

Elizabeth G. Traube is Professor of Anthropology at Wesleyan University. She has longstanding research interests in Timor-Leste, where she first did fieldwork in the early 1970s. She is the author of Cosmology and Social Life: Ritual Exchange among the Mambai of East Timor (1986) and co-editor of Land and Life in Timor-Leste (2011). Her recent work has focused on the relevance of pre-existing cultural resources to the resistance struggle and post-independence political life in Timor-Leste.


Cost : Free and open to the public.

Sponsor(s): Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Anthropology

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