Tara Bandu

Locally enacted customary practices of ritualised prohibitions, glossed as tara bandu in the national language of Tetum, are known differently in each local language. In Makasae the term is lubu badu[i] and similarly in Waima'a as luhbu badu (literally 'the prohibition pole'). While the practice is often referred to as 'seasonal or periodic resource harvesting restrictions', it can also be more broadly interpreted as a practice which regulates a range of place-based social and environmental relationships. Elevated as a tool for forest protection by the Portuguese at the turn of the twentieth century, over several decades the practice of tara bandu became the favoured 'indigenist ideology' supported by the state (McWilliam et al 2014). This officially favoured status afforded to it as an indigenous 'environmental protection practice' has to some extent been reinvigorated in the independence era. Alongside a significant amount of community and non-governmental organization level embrace of the process (McWilliam et al 2014), tara bandu has developed a profile as a 'traditional' mechanism which is garnering significant attention and traction in the development of formal resource management laws, many of which are been drafted by 'expert' foreign advisors. In 2013 the Secretariat of State of the Environment was also supporting such rituals through small allocations of funding and in some cases the attendance of senior government members. Tara bandu it seems is increasingly valued by the state as a local mechanism 'to conserve and promote the environment and the preservation and sustainable use of natural resources'.

What is understood today as the bandu process is usually conducted at the sub-village or village level at locally specified intervals (ranging from months to years). While the ceremony is announced and co-ordinated by the local political leader (usually the village head), the law making power emanates from the ancestral and ritual power of the sacred house or houses of one or more of the area's autochthonous or origin groups (in this case connected to a spring). Ceremonies are public events which announce the pre-agreed suite of prohibitions to the community and others present to witness the ceremony from outside. In the period preceding the event, outside guests will be formally invited and these may include political and ritual leaders from neighboring communities, members of the clergy, government, police and civil society. The ceremony itself will be a multi-day event involving much preparation for the law making practices, specifically ritual speech, celebratory ritual dancing, drumming and singing, betel nut exchange, animal sacrifice (which animals and how many depend on the traditions and capacity of the village and the subject of the bandu itself), divinatory techniques including an augury based on these animal's internal organs and communal feasting. Prior to the feasting, the relevant ritual elders must also come together to share in the consumption of specially prepared foods, which are also symbolically shared with the relevant ancestral spirits of the 'houses', lands and waters. In most areas, following the ceremony large ritual 'mother' posts and smaller 'child' posts will be placed around the locale and hung (tara) with relevant symbols (usually skulls of the sacrificed animals, forest foliage and crop items) of the prohibitions (bandu) now in place. 

[i] Also known as lubu etena (see da Costa et al 2006: 94).

Related entries

Label / Notes Owner Date Modified
Lisa Palmer 17-Sep-2013 06-Jun-2015