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Hamatak halirin


The cosmological and socio-ecological roles of water in Koba Lima, Timor

Balthasar Kehi and I (Jen Hughes) have worked together on translation and stories many times in the past ten years. During this time Balthasar began talking to me about the division of island of Timor that was one people and one culture into Dutch and Portuguese Timor in 1859 and the sad effects of this that are still felt today. His early writing about the five kingdoms that made up Koba-Lima prior to its division can be read  here. The new work: Hamatak halirin totalling 27 pages can be read on-line or downloaded from here.

Now Balthasar and Lisa Palmer have published a remarkable paper on the cosmologicl and socio-ecological roles of water in Koba Lima, Timor that reveal the complex character of just some of the Timorese spiritual life.

The cosmological and socio-ecological roles of water, in particular spring water, have not been the subject of sustained analysis in the anthropological literatures of the eastern archipelago. Taking as our starting point the central role of water in the origin narratives and ritual practices of Koba Lima, a coalition of five ancient kingdoms located across the division of East Timor and Indonesian West Timor, we explore the profound cosmological meanings and many layered understandings of life and death associated with water. We argue that in this nuanced socio-ecological world, water is the blood and milk of the mother transformed into life itself through father fire. It is through these transformative capacities connected to water that the boundaries separating the visible and invisible worlds can be permeated, enabling the living access to matak malirin or good health and productive life force. The paper is both a contribution to the literature on archipelagic socio-cosmic dualisms and a unique ethnography which presents new material on the significance of water in this region.