Waima’a House Cultures: Material connections and risks
Lisa Palmer University of Melbourne (UniMelb), AUSTRALIA
Waima’a house cultures are elusive. Forming a corridor of connection across the western north-south transect in the Baucau municipality, the custodians of these houses tell deeply autochthonous origin stories of emergence (often through water) and subsequent inter-regional connections with other Waima’a speaking houses. More recent waves of migration from the Matebian foothills mean that many of these Waima’a houses are now Makasae-speaking. Yet the water cultures upon which these houses are founded continue to orient both more-than-human social worlds and wider sets of landscape-based relations. In this paper I examine the continuing salience of the house for interconnected Waima’a communities and investigate the challenges of rebuilding these material structures in the post-independence period. While the customary governance role of the house continues to be central to local lifeways, as material structures their reconstruction is considered simultaneously desirable and risky. I argue that one reason for this is the need for house-building rituals to confirm and reconcile the complicated time-depth of house-based inter-relations, in particular that of the original lela ho’on (fertility-givers).