Ukun Rasik A’an: indigenous self-determined development and peacebuilding in Timor-Leste

by Sophia Catherine Close

Institution: Australian National University
Year: 2016
Keywords: peace; peacebuilding; conflict; violence; Indigenous; self-determination; self-determined development; Timor-Leste; development; sustainable development
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2070005
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1885/107130


After decades of international activism by Indigenous peoples, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the Declaration) was endorsed by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 2007. The Declaration affirms the Indigenous right to self-determination and promotes development as a primary tool to implement this right peacefully and sustainably. My research explores the extent to which the current development system in Timor-Leste can support the implementation of Indigenous self-determination. Timor-Leste is a conflict-affected Indigenous society with a long history of colonialism and violence. Since 1999, when the East Timorese people exercised their right to self-determination in a UN-sponsored ballot, the country has been impacted by numerous international development and peacebuilding interventions with mixed outcomes. I specifically appraise perceptions of international development and peacebuilding interventions that have taken place in Timor-Leste since 1999, and undertake a comprehensive complex systems analysis of the root causes of violence and Indigenous peacebuilding practices in Timor-Leste. I argue that the current development system, rather than building peace, creates further structural and cultural violence because it overlooks or does not value or empower Indigenous knowledge systems or peacebuilding practices. I find that international practitioners have structural and cultural barriers that prevent them from engaging with Indigenous knowledge systems. My research demonstrates that East Timorese people have strong Indigenous knowledge systems, deeply linked to land, place and kinship networks. Indigenous East Timorese people seek to find balance within their complex and plural knowledge systems, which are envisioned as ukun rasik a’an or self-determination and peace. I used an ethnographic ‘listening’ methodology to undertake field research between 2009 and 2013 with around ninety East Timorese and international development and peacebuilding practitioners, and used abductive methods to analyse this data. Using primary and secondary sources I identify three main themes embedded in Indigenous East Timorese knowledge systems: • Culture / lulik: a plural system of cosmological and secular unity expressed through cultural practices and rituals; • Power / lisan: a governance system grounded in the balancing of power dynamics through cultural practices; and • Relationships / slulu: the primacy of localised relationship-based land, place and kinship systems. Drawing on the experiences of East Timorese and international practitioners I provide guiding principles or practical recommendations for practitioners to use to transform the identified root causes of violence in Timor-Leste and implement …