A translation of an article by Rogerio Soares in Direito pages 8-9, Edition 22, February 2003 published by Perkumpulan HAK, Dili, Timor-Leste.
Tara bandu is a good tradition that needs to be conserved for the development of the life of the community. The environment can be guarded and the agricultural community can sustain the support of the lives of the village population.
Tara bandu is an adat custom that regulates the relationship between humans and the environment surrounding them. In the era of independence, communities everywhere are reviving the tarabandu ceremony to determine the times when it is forbidden to fell trees, to pick and collect the produce from plants in certain places that are considered to be sacred. Places that are considered to be sacred are those places from which many people derive their means of existence. For example, places around water sources or the forest that are ecologically useful to maintain water flows and avoid erosion. This is evidence that our ancestors had a high level of consciousness about environmental protection.
On 16 January 2003 in the suco of Irabin, which is located in the Subdistrict of Uartukarbau in the District of Viqueque, the community leaders; namely, the liurai and 4 dato in this suco together with the local community conducted a tarabandu ceremony. This was the first tarabandu ceremony conducted since the Portuguese period.
This suco has water sources that are very important not only for the livelihood of all of its members but also for many people in other places. In this suco there is located a water source – the Irabin River which flows through the territories of Irabere, Nabo Tarukasa, Giacai, Combere Comata, Baidubu (Subdistrict of Uatokarbau and the area of Maumua Tobolobe which is located in the Subdistrict of Homar, in the District of Lautem. Around 150 hectares of wet rice cultivation fields are watered from this river.
In this river, water falls create a small lake. The water is extraordinarily clear and very fresh. The view of the river is very beautiful. According to the local people, this place used to rich in flora and fauna. But now the water is decreasing and so are the flora and fauna. Environmental destruction is the cause.
One day before the tarabandu ceremony, the local youths who are educated in Dili work together with the leaders to conduct an open discussion on the right of the community in relation to the environment and a suitable life. The implementers invited government officials such as the Director of Land and Property Pedro de Sousa and officials from the Environmental Protection and Forests Unit who spoke about the government’s policy on land and environmental protections. Activists from the non-government organisations Perkumpulan HAK, the Institut Sahe, Fundasaun Haburas and the sustainable agriculture network, HASATIL spoke about the need to utilise sustainable agricultural methods that protect the environment and the danger of large-scale capital investment in agriculture or natural resources such as water that would cause the community to have no rights over those natural resources. The adat leaders spoke about the traditional methods for the protection of nature.
Alesandre da Silva, the Liurai of Irabin, said in the discussion that the forests in this place where he was born used to be very dense and luxuriant. “It used to be that in my place, Uatubela, the forest was dense and provided water that can give life to our community. But after Indonesia came, we were forced from our birth places and now the forest has been felled and burned” he said. In his opinion, after Timor-Leste obtained independence, now is the time to respect the environment. “We [should] return the environment to what it used to be so that there is water and forest again to give us our livelihood” he said.
This environmental destruction happened because of the Indonesian occupation. In 1979, the people who fled to the mountains were forced to surrender because of huge bombing campaigns by the Indonesian military using sophisticated aircraft that were obtained from the United Kingdom and America. The people who came down from the mountains were subsequently forced to live together in a new place so that they could be easily controlled by the occupation forces. People who originated from Uatokarbau were forced to join the population from Baguia and all were located to the territory of Irabin that had previously been forest. They were forced also to cut down the forest to build houses as well as making gardens and wet rice cultivation fields to support their livelihood.
During the Indonesian occupation, some of the population felled the forest for shifting cultivation. “Shifting agriculture is a bad practice that must be abandoned. Do not, because of chasing a plentiful harvest in one season, cut down all the trees and not count the damage in the future” said Oscar da Silva, a youth from Irabin who is an activist from HASATIL.
The dato of Makaki said that their ancestors since the beginning respected the water and the forest that was considered lulik (sacred): “People valued these lulik places through offerings such as chickens, goats, pigs and buffalo. The water and the forest we respected. It was forbidden to damage them. From the water we get fish and water the rice fields. The forest gives us materials to build houses and give rain so that we can still cultivate in the growing season” he added.
The tarabandu ceremony is a form of respect that is observed by the people in relation to the water and the forest or the entire surrounding environment. The people slaughter beasts as a symbol of the prohibition; that is, the ban on cutting trees. If there is a violation then the relevant person is imposed with a punishment in the form of an obligation to slaughter the same number of beasts slaughtered at the tarabandu ceremony.
The tarabandu of the Village of Irabin is conducted near waters of the Irabere River. The ceremony commences with hamulak (prayers) by the Liurai Alexandre da Silva in the uma lulik (adat/sacred house). Then the procession heads to the ceremonial place near the water source. Here, there is a head count of all the relatives – both those that are present and those who are not present. Everyone is given a siri or pinang leaf that means that everyone is participates in the ceremony. Those who are not in attendance are represented by those who are in attendance.
Subsequently, the sacrificial animals are slaughtered; namely, chickens, pigs and buffalo. The entrails of these animals are read by an adat elder to determine the people’s fate in the future. Important parts of the sacrificial animals are then offered to the souls of the ancestors and the Rain Nain (the land lord).
Marcel de Carvalho who is the Oan Mane of Irabin acts as the spokesperson in this ceremony. At the peak of the ceremony, he reaffirms the communal agreement that the things and the places that were worshipped by their ancestors as something that gives them life are now strengthened again. “Don’t damage, we value and love it. We will make green again the areas that are protected which include Satoma-Kailaku, Uatubela, Bua’a-Lakasoru, Uatubisoru and Hudilale”, he said.
He also gave the message that the people should not let their animals enter the river because the water is used by many people for drinking. “The pasture place is limited to below Taradiga. This is to guard the cleanliness of the water source” said Marcal de Carvalho. The ceremony ends with eating the meat of the animals that have been sacrificed in this ceremony. The meat is cooked by the women and is eaten with rice. The place smells of the aroma of spice that is called bantaka.
(c) Translation by W. Wright
Dili, Timor-Leste 27 May 2004