Iliomar is an isolated sub-district, situated high in the mountains on the south-east coast of Timor-Leste, three hours by bus south west of the nearest town, Los Palos. The population is approx 7,300 and the main language is Makalero, a Trans- New Guinean/ Papuan language.
Most of the population lives in one of six small villages. There is no electricity or running water; only a few people have cars, there are no taxis; buses only run a few times a week and the roads are very bad. Although only 46km from Los Palos to Iliomar, the journey can take up to five hours due to the condition of the roads.
As subsistence farmers, most families grow their own food including corn, cassava, rice and vegetables. However during the dry season there isn’t enough to feed everyone so people are often hungry. Life in these communities can be really difficult. In June/July it gets quite cold and as most people live in small, drafty houses and very few have mattresses or blankets, respiratory illness during the cooler months is rife.
The wet season is from December to July with estimated rainfall of 160-270cm, and a mean temperature of 24oC. Access is limited as roads are impassable during the wet season. There is no significant rainfall during the other months. The months between August and November –the hungry months- are hot and dry.
etwa works with weaving groups in the villages of Cainliu and Fuat. Although separated only by a short distance and a narrow valley, the villages of Fuat and Cainliu are very different geographically. Fuat sits atop a grassy, wind-swept mountain plateau overlooking the ocean, while Cainliu is located on a hillside, with houses sequentially scattered on cobbled streets surrounded by tall coconut palms. During the wet season, Fuat is cool and Cainliu is warm and humid.
Traditional ceremony and processes known as ‘adat’ are practiced widely in Iliomar and women are often busy weaving tais for specific ceremonies. A major ceremony occurs when the bones of resistance fighters killed in the jungle during the occupation are returned to be laid to rest in the village. Family, friends and leaders from all over Lautem and beyond attend and the festivities last for days. It is critical to these communities that the bones of the dead be returned to their rightful place.
Socio-cultural systems play a key role in maintaining village life. Fulidai-dai is one such system specific to the Makalero people of Iliomar. A living socio-cultural system, handed down through the ages, Fulidai-dai is an important part of community and individual consciousness and is critical to maintaining harmony and unity. Fulidai-dai at its core, fosters greater cooperation, mutual aid and voluntary contributions (in a specific cultural sense). Its primary purpose is to encourage individuals to act and contribute for the greater good of the community, not for the betterment of one individual. Principles include reciprocity, solidarity, collectivity, sharing and mutual aid.
Fulidai-dai in practice brings people together to support one another in most tasks necessary to maintain village life; turning the land, planting and harvesting, building a house or preparing for cultural ceremonies and festivals. Community members are givers and receivers, offering assistance when required in exchange for assistance at a later date. This cycle of reciprocity increases productivity and decreases the burden of completing the range of diverse tasks necessary to maintain village life.
According to village leaders, another traditional system known as Tarabandu is being revived, particularly in the area of traditional justice. Tarabandu is a traditional mechanism used to acknowledge, process and forgive a wrongdoing. In a ceremony which an etwa member attended, a village member had offended representatives from the government. The whole village accepted responsibility for the offender who provided meat and local palm wine for community leaders and elders to share during the Tarabandu ceremony. Leaders from all over Lautem participated, including the local Catholic Priest. The process involved a formal, facilitated meeting where leaders spoke about the impacts of the crime and why forgiveness is important. The offender’s name was never mentioned as the responsibility is accepted by the whole community.