The beautiful sub-district of Illiomar is situated high in the mountains on the south-east coast of Timor-Leste. In 2010, the population was 7,201 (3,440 men and 3,761 women) with a median age of 16 years. The main spoken language is Makalero a Trans-New Guinean/Papuan language.


Iliomar is one of 5 sub-districts of Lautem. Travelling the 272 km east from the national capital of Dili takes about 11 hours by bus. The 46km journey south west from the Lautem district capital of Los Palos takes about 4 hours by bus. With a rugged and rocky land area of 302 sq km (16.67% of the country’s total land area), most people live in one of six small villages separated by an average of 4 km. The area is highly undeveloped and the one road leading into the area is in poor condition and impassable in the rainy season between December and June, with estimated rainfall of 160-270cm, and a mean temperature of 24oC.


The tourism experience in Iliomar is amazing. There is a small guest house in the village of Caenlio and home stays can always be organised through ETWA’s key partner, the LO’UD Cooperative. The landscape is diverse and stunning and the locals are warm, although often a little shy. There’s monkey forest which is a decent walk from the centre of town. You’ll pass through some spectacular virgin forest and cross rivers which rise rapidly in the rainy season. If you’re looking for an authentic, remote village experience, Iliomar is the place to visit. Be mindful that the community is often engaged in traditional ceremonies, so respecting these processes is essential and only participate if invited.

Visiting Iliomar

To find out more about tourism in Iliomar, contact LO’UD or visit the Timor Adventures website.


girl with macheteThe months between August and November – known as the “hungry months” due to food shortages – are hot and dry.  Eight in ten families are engaged in subsistence farming activities and only 39% are engaged in economic activity, compared to the national average of 46.4%. Even this economic activity is not the same as paid employment. Life in these communities can be really difficult. Between June and July it gets quite cold and as most people live in small, damp and drafty houses and very few have mattresses or blankets and respiratory illness during the cooler months is rife.

Importantly, official statistics demonstrate the burden that poverty places on women and girls in the area. Only 19% of women are engaged in economic activity (compared to the national average of 31.3%). The difficulty of accessing the closest hospital seriously inhibits good health; for example, only 43 of 1,565 births (3%) occurred in a hospital in 2010. One in four women are illiterate, less than 3% of girls are enrolled in secondary school (compared to the national average of 17.9%), and half the female population has never attended school at any level. Of the 1,420 houses in Iliomar, 83% do not provide sufficient protection against the elements. 96% of families still cook with wood. Only 23% have sanitation and only 17% have electricity.



Weavers group_SarahGrace

ETWA’s key partner, the LO’UD Cooperative has member weaving groups in the villages of Lospalos, 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.