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Embodying Exile

Trauma and Collective Identities among East Timorese Refugees in Australia

Amanda Wise

Keywords: affect; diaspora; East Timor; East Timorese; exile; longdistance nationalism; refugees; transnationalism; trauma

Some of the more interesting and useful work on diasporic and transnational identities has emanated from scholars working in cultural studies and contemporary anthropology. However, with a few notable exceptions, little attention has been paid to the specific experiences of refugee diasporas, and in particular, to the role of trauma and embodiment in the creation of these ‘moral communities.’ Based on research with the East Timorese diaspora in Australia, this article looks at the performative dimensions (protests, church rituals, singing, and dancing) of the diaspora’s political campaign for East Timor’s independence. I consider how the bodily dimensions of this protest movement contributed to certain formations of identity, belonging, and exile, within the Timorese community. In particular, I explore how these performative strategies have created a context for ‘retraumatizing’ bodies and memories, channeling them into a political ‘community of suffering,’ in turn contributing to a heightened sense of the morality of an exilic identity among many Timorese.

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