Timor-Leste lies amongst the isles of the Malay Archipelago, north of Australia. Courageously gaining independence in 2002, it’s people are now working to reduce poverty and build a sustainable economy. Although Timor-Leste is considered the poorest nation in Asia, it has vast riches in its culture and community.
Tradition and custom have survived centuries of colonization and war. One such tradition is the practice of hand-weaving cloth known as Tais. This important practice brings generations of women together, reflecting the strong sense of community still alive in Timor-Leste despite decades of violence, oppression and extreme poverty.
Tais are integral to other sacred practices which aim to sustain the lives of the villagers and maintain ecological balance for future generations. In traditional Timorese society, the shape and structure of a building represents qualities such as strength and balance. It pays homage to nature, the environment, to animals and to the ancestors, all of which are essential to life itself. Maintaining balance occurs through ceremony and specific social practices such as the Tara bandu and systems like Fulidai-dai in Iliomar.
However like many emerging nations, consumer culture draws youth to the cities. This drains the collective capacities of communities and makes life difficult as the community ages. In some rural areas, there is a movement to revive and maintain traditional practices. The belief is that traditional culture and local enterprise offers a more sustainable future, as employment opportunities in the formal economy are minimal. In the rural areas, an estimated 80% of East Timor’s population live outside the cash economy. Strengthening the rural economy is a key to both avoiding further crisis and encouraging young people remain in their communities. Local enterprise steeped in culture achieves two major things – poverty reduction and cultural maintenance. Within this context economic development projects engage in the perseverance of culture and provide young people with opportunities to build a brighter future.
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