Volunteering in East Timor

Kore Metan
Michael Jones

agathering bobserving ctiamadelena flightingcandle
    Gathering After a Year       Family       Tia Madalena       Lighting a Candle  
gpresent hclose iprayer2 jtouchgoodbye
    Lighting a Candle       Girls               Touch Goodbye  
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    Prayers for a Lost Child       Family of Graves       Grave       Grave  


On the 18th of June, the extended Hera family held a massive Kore Metan, a ceremony honoring the dead, for thirteen departed family members. For weeks, the family had been preparing--building temporary shelters for family members who would come from all around the country, gathing food and fuel to cook feasts for hundreds, and readying gravestones.

Four days leading up to the 18th, early arriving family members began crowding the traditional family yard. Before long, Mark's house and yard was more like a festival than a residence--there was never a dull moment, people were constantly walking back and forth, laughing, talking quietly, cooking, and eating. The counsel of elders (all men) met regularly to discuss important details of the coming festivities--and to consume a good deal of tua to make reaching difficult decisions a little easier. The Hera children had more playmates.

On the appointed hour, as dusk approached, the family members all--now approaching a hundred--moved quietly toward the graveyard. Tia Madalena (Will's host mother) took center stage for a moment or two, venting her sorrows at the loss of those close to her. Other people said short prayers. Several women placed black clothing which they may have worn for a customery year after the death of close family on the gravestones. Men laid new stones or crosses in place. Family members lit candles in placed them along the top of the stone graves--I was impressed to see a young man who is generally too drunk to walk straight, cleaned up and paying his respects.

Everything was over fairly quickly. It was a quiet, sombre event. People spoke only a little. Several cried loudly, most attended silently. The mourning period for many was now officially over. Customarily, a Kore Metan is held one year after the death, to acknowledge the end of the wearing of black color clothes (kore metan)--the way close family members let everyone know they are in mourning, that they won't dance, or sing, or... . But this ceremony was bigger. I never understood exactly why. Some said it was because the family had waited till it had sufficient funds to commemorate properly. Some said it was because those now accepted as dead had never been officially burried, but had simply gone missing during Indonesian times.

When everyone left the grave yard, I was left alone with a tranquil feeling of peace. Thoughts of my father came on strongly, and I was glad to have a beautiful place to myself for a few minutes before darkness set in. Then I recalled talk of ghosts inhabiting the graveyard after dark, and I quickly followed the crowd back to Mark's house. (See the next photo gallery for photos from the festival later that night.)


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