The Poetics and Politics of Contemporary Uabmeto Ritual Language Performance in West Timor

Barbara Dix Grimes (GMIT, Kupang)


Building on the insights of Professor Fox and others concerned with ritual language poetics and performance, this paper and accompanying video footage explores contemporary ritual language performance in West Timor. The initial focus is on various forms of verbal art that were performed as responsive chats (natoni) and community dance (bonet), prayers and greetings at celebrations on Easter Sunday 2016 in the village of Laob in the traditional region of Mollo (Polen subdistrict, Timor Tengah Selatan district). Poetic structures and semantics are examined taking into account how metaphor is used to support the
linguistic ideology that ritual language is an inspired form of communication ‘wrapping’ important knowledge including biblical narratives. The apparent harmony between the established spheres of authority in Mollo social life representing religion (agama), tradition (adat) and the state (pemerintah) at this Easter performance is also examined. Finally, local efforts to insure intergenerational transmission of this poetic art form in West Timor are discussed.