Oral Traditions and The Christian Mission in East and West Timor: Tracing the post-modern Life

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Gregor Neonbasu


This article discusses the current objectives and observations of the Christian Mission working among the people of East and West Timor, Indonesia, and particularly missionary efforts to learn oral traditions which today inform locals how to navigate postmodern life and a post-truth society. It must be conceded that many people tend to disregard oral tradition. The most practical reason for this attitude is that oral tradition relies on mouth-to-mouth communication (without writing), as well as the absence of any legislation supporting the authority of this system of communication. This causes people to deem oral history testimonies as less “official” than written accounts. Although oral tradition is not often considered a reliable source for scholarship, one can use it to document local worldviews. Oral history can also be useful in drawing back the curtain to view an area’s history. This paper discusses the worldview of the Timorese people- both West and East - in the context of oral tradition in order not only to emphasize the unity of the people in West and East Timor, but also to highlight the bias of oral tradition: reframing it as a useful tool for understanding our postmodern and post-truth society. In this regard, the aim of the paper is to further discuss the significant role of oral tradition in the Timorese worldview and its usefulness for conservation and missionary attention. I will frequently refer to the term “origins” to provide comparisons between the past and the current condition of postmodern and post-truth society. Better understanding of postmodernism and post-truth can help Timorese establish Christianity more centrally in local people’s daily affairs. In this way, I would like to discuss the subject of postmodern and post-truth society within the context of Timorese life and how biases on certain truths can be complicated by oral traditions. This paper is based on my research among the Biboki people of West Timor. The Biboki very often use oral tradition to trace their origins and root their philosophies of life informing their current lifestyles. Based on this research and also some material collected before (in East and West Timor), it is hoped that learning oral traditions can support current, locally-specific developments within this region of the country, especially those driven by theories of postmodernism and post-truth.


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