Tom Therik

Dr Tom Therik was born in Atambua on Timor and grew up speaking a dialect of the Tetun language spoken in Wehali. The challenge for him was not in doing field research as an ‘outsider’ in some remote village but rather in mastering the ritual language of his local ‘instructors’ to enable him to understand what the people of Wehali regard as the ‘true knowledge of the ancestors’. His book offers a fundamental understanding of some of the important traditions of Timor.

Wehali: The Female Land »

Traditions of a Timorese Ritual Centre

Authored by: Tom Therik
Publication date: 2022
Wehali defines itself as the ritual centre of the island of Timor. As a ritual centre, Wehali continues to be the residence of a figure of traditional authority on whom, in the 18th century, the Dutch conferred the title of Kaiser (Keizer) and to whom the Portuguese gave the title of Emperor (Imperador). At one time, Wehali was the centre of a network of tributary states, which both the Dutch and Portuguese regarded as paramount to the political organisation of the island. This book is a study of Wehali in its contemporary setting as it continues to maintain its rituals and traditions. Significantly, Wehali is a ‘Female’ centre and its ‘Great Lord’ is considered to be a ‘Female’ lord. Whereas other Timorese societies are organised along male lines, in Wehali, all land, all property, all houses belong to women. Men are exchanged as husbands in marriage. Wehali is thus considered to be the ‘husband-giver’ to the surrounding realms on the island that look to its inner power as their source of life.

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