Fates Worse Than Death

Destruction and Social Attachment in Timor-Leste

in Social Analysis
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Abstract

This article argues against reductive approaches to violence in Timor-Leste that treat house destruction as a ‘symbolic’ epiphenomenon of more consequential bodily injury and death. Timorese ideologies of kinship, understood through ancestral-origin houses, regard material destruction as a fate worse than death. Death does not end the sociality of the deceased but rather foregrounds their continued importance for the living. Building on scholars’ treatments of ‘house societies’ and post-Schneiderian studies that locate kin relatedness beyond biogenetic substance, I demonstrate how Timorese people construct iconic and indexical connections between quotidian and ancestral houses through transformative actions that involve material things, such as chewing betel nut and the preparation and co-consumption of food. The configuration of those connections through material media renders them subject to social and historical erasure.

Contributor Notes

Gabriel Tusinski is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences interdisciplinary cluster at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). His research develops semiotic approaches to material and visual culture to examine contemporary cultural and political transformations in urban Southeast Asia, with a particular focus on Timor-Leste.

Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology

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