Empty lands: life and wellbeing along Timor-Leste’s emerging oil frontier

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In many regions of Timor-Leste, the land is considered to be the source or ‘origin’ of life, having given birth to primordial human beings in the ancestral past. In the present, territorially rooted house groups engage in reciprocal relations with the inspirited environment to generate prosperity, wellbeing and good health. These local conceptualisations of the land as a life-giving source were challenged in 2015, when the government of Timor-Leste initiated the implementation of the Tasi Mane petroleum corridor, aiming to transform the entire south coast of the country into an oil and gas infrastructure. Echoing earlier colonial policies, government planners describe the fertile southern planes through the legal category of ‘empty land’ – wild and uncultivated land that belongs to the state and whose economic potential needs to be exploited to its fullest. This paper explores the transformation of the understanding of ‘cultural land’ during the making of the East Timorese southern resource frontier. Whilst the notion of ‘cultural land’ gained prominence when local peasants attempted to counter the government’s claim that the land was empty, the notion became increasingly seen as an exclusive category, constructed in opposition to, yet mirroring the concept of ‘law’.

ArgO-EMR Seminars Trinity 2023

Wednesdays at 5pm (Weeks 2-3, 5-8) in the Pauling Centre, 58a Banbury Road


Sensory ecologies of therapeutics: Weeks 2-3 and 8

Medieval female bodies: Weeks 5-7

Convened by Kristina Baines and Elisabeth Hsu