Do rituals serve as a brake on innovation in staple food cropping in Timor-Leste?

Martin Browne, Luisa Goncalo, Anita Ximenes, Modesto Lopes, William Erskine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Ritual practices from Christian and older animist belief systems persist across Timor-Leste (T-L). Significant events such as deaths and marriages include elements from both beliefs, and resources to conduct the associated ceremonies can affect agricultural production. In addition, ceremonies based on family lineage groups - lisan - are conducted for numerous purposes, with many related to food production and consumption. To investigate such rituals from a food security perspective, interviews on ritual practices were conducted in a longitudinal study among 18 households in four municipalities in 2006–2007 and among 56 respondents in three municipalities in 2015. Time and resources dedicated to ritual practices varied significantly across respondents, localities and crops. Despite extensive rural poverty, almost all communities dedicated significant resources and time to conduct ceremonies, particularly for maize and rice. Importantly, innovation in cropping was not stifled by rituals. Rituals reinforce social networks that have already been found to be important to food security, so in a broad sense rituals may even contribute to crop production. There was wide overlap between the composition of lineage lisan and mutual labour groups, which can be critical in T-L where, with limited availability of farm mechanization, the household unit of labour is insufficient for some agricultural tasks. A reallocation of resources from rituals to other objectives such as education and home maintenance is now gradually occurring. Looking ahead, respondents indicated that, while rituals could become less elaborate, continuance of the traditions was essential. Agricultural rituals contribute to the social capital needed for crop production and food security in T-L.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)441-451
Number of pages11
JournalFood Security
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2017


Dive into the research topics of 'Do rituals serve as a brake on innovation in staple food cropping in Timor-Leste?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this