Traditional ceremony helps establish peace in troubled villages
Quelicai – Manuel de Carvalho stands amongst a crowd of onlookers looking up at a helicopter coming in to land at the foot of Mount Matebian. (Lee versaun Tetum iha ne'e)
As the helicopter doors open onto a field near the Laisorulai village primary school, the dignitaries disembark. They have come to Baucau district on this warm Sunday morning in March 2012 to witness a traditional conflict resolution ceremony between six villages.
“At one point last year the situation was so tense that the some of the students stopped coming to school and the women needed to be accompanied by a relative to go on about their daily activities,” said Manuel, a primary school teacher in the village of Maluro.
- The Department for Peace Building and Social Cohesion (DPBSC) was asked to mediate and facilitate dialogue among the conflicting parties in Laisorulai.
- DPBSC was established in 2010 within the Ministry of Social Solidarity, with UNDP support.
- With the support of UNDP, community leaders, youth and women’s representatives and village council members were trained to become mediators.
- These mediators come in to help resolve local disputes when villagers are unable to reach agreements on their own.
“Now that we are a free country this is not how we should be leading our lives. I hope that the youth will be able to understand with ceremony that it is only through peace that we can develop not only ourselves but also our community.” he said.
Since 2001 Quelicai sub-district in Baucau has witnessed some violent conflicts. Over the years these incidents led to the destruction of houses, people being killed or displaced and a series of arrests.
During 2011 rivalry between youth groups from six different villages in the area resulted in one death, houses being burnt and three young people injured.Local children were afraid to walk to school unaccompanied.
The National Police of Timor-Leste (PNTL) intervened and several cases are under investigation, but community leaders also recognized the importance of using traditional mechanisms to prevent future conflict.
A ceremony known as a tara-bandu sets down traditional resolutions and unique dialogue mechanisms, combining local cultural customs with formal mediation methods to prevent conflicts.
The process ensures that all people within the community have a voice and that proposed regulations are agreed to and followed after the agreement has been reached.
“It is important that the people here, especially the youth, recognize what today’s event represents – the need to respect others, our children, our neighbors and our co-workers,” said Norberto Fernandes, Laisorulai village chief.
“We need to be open to listen to and overcome our differences. This is what the tara-bandu is all about,” he said.
The Ministry of Social Solidarity (MSS), through the Department for Peace Building and Social Cohesion, was asked to mediate and facilitate dialogue among the conflicting parties.
With the support of UNDP, community leaders, youth and women’s representatives, village council members and traditional leaders in Baucau, Dili, Ermera and Covalima were trained to become mediators, bringing conflicting groups together to talk and listen.
These mediators come in to help resolve local disputes when they turn particularly violent, and villagers are unable to reach agreements on their own.
“People need to unite so that the democratic process can take place and contribute to their livelihoods, we need to respect our differences and learn how to coexist in harmony,” said MSS Minister, Maria Domingas Fernandes Alves, who presided over the event.
“The government is here to support you but it is also important to remember that peace starts within our homes,” she said.
She also reminded participants that national elections were approaching and that this was another reason to work towards preventing conflict.
"I would like to congratulate you all taking this courageous step to promote peace and unity. This is also recognized as an important step to ensure stability in the upcoming elections. I hope that all of you will commit yourself not to engage in violence," said UNDP Country Director, Mikiko Tanaka, in her remarks.
More than 1,000 people from the six villages who had been involved in the dialogue process attended the event.
President José Ramos-Horta, and PNTL General Commander, Longuinhos Monteiro also attended the event, along with members of the armed forces (F-FDTL), the Government, UNDP and UNMIT.