Accepted paper:

Missionary endeavours and colonial ethnographies in East Timor (1910-1926)


Frederico Rosa (Universidade Nova de Lisboa-CRIAFCSH)

Paper short abstract:

This paper proposes to reconstruct the catholic missionary practices and discourses concerning the so-called conversion of indigenous peoples in Portuguese Timor. It focuses on the varied and historically unstable links between the foreign priests and the local communities.

Paper long abstract:

In 1910, when religious orders were expelled from Portugal and its colonies under the new republican regime, catholic missions in East Timor faced serious problems of staff, jeopardizing the nomadic program of the remaining secular priests. The instability of their political status, echoing other periods of anticlericalism in portuguese history, was seen by catholic missionaries as one of the main causes of their own unsuccess, giving way to the obliviousness of local christians and the aloofness of the gentios (non-christian). The lack of support from the republican colonial administration put the missionaries to the test as concerns the persuasive powers of the catholic message and imagery. With less then 5% of indigenous christians after four hundred years of colonial contact, the case of Portuguese Timor was a good illustration of the idea promoted by the Church itself that hard times and the cyclical fall of past achievements were intrinsic to the missionary history since the time of the apostles. The difficulties of portuguese priests in Timor during the First Republic (1910-1926) created therefore a significant moment in 20th century colonialism, in which religious interaction was supposed to happen once again from scratch, in the forgotten cristandades of bygone centuries. This paper proposes an historical ethnography of those face to face encounters, not only in the way of the so-called conversions but also in the way of the cultural interpretations of otherness. It will explore and articulate a certain number of hints in the colonial archive, namely in missionary letters and reports of that period. Particular attention will be paid to seven ethnographical snapshots published in 1920 by Father João José de Andrade (1894-1931), the first to be produced by Portuguese missionaries in East Timor in the 20th century.

panel P221
New histories of anthropology: the hidden emotions of colonial ethnography