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Fates Worse Than Death

Destruction and Social Attachment in Timor-Leste

Gabriel Tusinski


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.