The Order of Ceremonial Government

Part of the Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies Series book series (CIPCSS)


The previous chapter argued for a new theoretical approach to colonialism as symbiotic relationship between the European and indigenous worlds. The concept of mutual parasitism called attention to the double reciprocations of hospitality and parasitic appropriation and to how doubles of unequal exchange might generate asymmetries of power. Hostility, it was also suggested, is not alien to the workings of parasitic dynamics. In fact, given the continuous state of war between Dili and the Timorese kingdoms, indigenous hostility seemed to prevail in Timor. Furthermore, as observed in the Introduction, the colonial establishment displayed dramatic traits of weakness. Portuguese Timor was an isolated dependency ran by a minimalist administration that struggled with extreme financial and military debility, and the enmity of the surrounding kingdoms. However, this did not signify that, under these conditions, political order and alternative processes of colonial rule and power did not exist in Timor. The state of apparent weakness and the hostility of the kingdoms also expressed an alternative form of government, whose force derived from the strength of the parasitic ties between the European and indigenous collectives, in the realm of justice and violence. It is the purpose of this chapter to explain the main epistemic strategies of inclusion that made this form of government possible. It seeks to expose these strategies as the principal theories according to which the workings of mutual parasitism were most crucially and distinctively framed and interpreted in Timorese and Portuguese terms. The intention is also to


Colonial Rule Colonial Government Symbolic Power Worldly Affair Tribute System 
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  1. 1.
    East Timor is a diverse ethnic and linguistic territory. Geoffrey Hull has recently identified 16 indigenous languages. The East Timorese languages can in any case be classified into two distinct language families: the Austronesian and the TransNew Guinean, or ‘Papuan’. See Geoffrey Hull, ‘The Languages of East Timor. Some Basic Facts’,; Thomaz, De Ceuta a Timor, pp. 613–35; Cf. Arthur Capell, ‘Peoples and Languages of Timor’, Oceania, 14 (1943–44), 311–37; 15, 19–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  4. 3.
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    In Goa, the first codifications of local customs dated from the sixteenth century; others were to appear later. In Timor, a first official attempt to survey and codify Timorese usos e costumes with a view to support the administration of justice was undertaken in 1908–09, by recommendation of governor Eduardo Marques. See Ibid., pp. 6–7, 48–9; Luís da Cunha Gonçalves, ‘Direito Consuetudinário dos Indígenas de Timor’, Memórias da Academia de Ciências de Lisboa (Classe de Letras), I (1936), 203–4.Google Scholar
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    On this code and the problem of the colonial exercise of law according to usos e costumes in the nineteenth century Portuguese colonies, cf. Ana Cristina Nogueira da Silva, ‘“Missão Civilizacional” e Codificação de Usos e Costumes na Doutrina Colonial Portuguesa (Séculos XIX–XX)’, Quaderni Fiorentini per la Storia del Pensiero Giuridico Moderno, 33–34, II (2004–5), 899–921.Google Scholar
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    The use of the term estilo or estylo (pl. estilos) in Timor preserved the vernacular meaning of ‘custom’, ‘consuetudinary practice’, a lawful manner or style of doing something. In Tetum, it can also designate ‘sacrificial rites’ and any rite performed according to the manners and customs of communities. Cf. Machado, Dicionário Etimológico; António de Almeida, ‘Da Onomástica-Tabu no Timor Português—Antropónimos e Zoónimos’, in AAVV (ed.), In Memoriam Jorge Dias (Lisbon: JICU, 1974), III, p. 12; Costa, Dicionário de Tétum-Português.Google Scholar
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    Even after the replacement of the system of kingdoms for the suku system from 1912–13, this kind of blurring was preserved. This was visible to professional ethnographers in East Timor still in the 1970s. See David Hicks, ‘Unachieved Synchretism: the Local-Level Political System in Portuguese Timor, 1966–1967’, Anthropos, 7 (1983), 17–40; Elizabeth Traube, ‘Mambai Rituals in Black and White’, in Fox (ed.), The Flow of Life, p. 296, n. 12. The intertwinement of Portuguese colonial administration with the traditional holders of political or jural authority between 1912 and 1975 has also been observed in a recent survey of the Timorese political system. Recent ethnographic work on Timorese ‘traditional justice’ in the context of post-conflict processes of reconciliation also points (even if only in brief) to imbrications of Timorese customary justice with the Portuguese administration in the colonial period. Sofi Ospina and Tanja Hohe, ‘Traditional Power Structures and the Community Empowerment and Local Governance Project. Final Report’, Presented to CEP/PMU, ETTA/UNTAET and the World Bank, Dili Sept. 2001, Scholar
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    Apart from the Christian religious connotation of the term ‘ritual’ as opposed to the secular connotation of the term ‘ceremonial’, the two may be seen as equivalent, since both regard intense social occasions of connecting with sacred or charismatic values and powers of a specific group or society. Yet, in this chapter, for the sake of conceptual clarity, I use the term ‘ritual’ in the context of the rule over sacred affairs conducted by Timorese ‘ritual lords’, whereas ceremonial will be preferred to express the practice and management of estilos associated with the peculiar mode of ritual rule of Portuguese ‘jural lords’ over secular or worldly affairs. I may however refer to headhunting in colonial warfare as ’ritual’ or ‘ceremonial’ violence because, in that context, the two zones of rule closely intersected. Cf. Edward Shils, Center and Periphery. Essays on Macrosociology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975), pp. 154–5.Google Scholar
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    Clifford Geertz, Negara: the Theatre-State in Nineteenth-Century Bali (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), p. 122.Google Scholar
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    In her ethnographic history of the Balinese kingdom of Klungkung, Wiener has correctly pointed out Geertz’s lack of critical analysis of Dutch colonial sources. Nevertheless, Wiener embraces an indigenocentric project, rescuing the indigenous traditional system and exploring the ultimate epistemological difference between Dutch and Balinese conceptions of power. Cf. Margaret J. Wiener, Visible and Invisible Realms. Power, Magic, and Colonial Conquest in Bali (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).Google Scholar
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    As Pina-Cabral suggested in his study of early nineteenth-century colonial Macao, such ‘equivocal compatibilities’ might compose mutually beneficial arrangements. Cf. João de Pina-Cabral, Between China and Europe: Person, Culture and Emotion in Macao (London: Continuum, 2002), ch. 5.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Ricardo Nuno Afonso Roque 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Social SciencesUniversity of LisbonPortugal

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