Playing Chicken with Coronavirus

Playing Chicken with Coronavirus

Leaders from four traditional clan houses met in Metinaro to "repel" Covid-19 from the country (Image/Ego Perreira)

METINARO, 29 March 2020 (TATOLI) – What is a sure way to ensure your family is safe from Covid-19? Quarantine? Face masks? Hand washing?

How about chicken liver?

Elders from four clan houses near Dili have come together for a special ceremony to summon supernatural forces and “repel” the virus from Timor-Leste.

The leaders met in Metinaro on Friday for the ritual. The price of admission? One liver from a pig, chicken, or other animal.

Elders from Luanari, Manutelolau, Wenunuk and Buimanuk villages attended the ritual at Metinaro (Image/Ego Perreira)

Adão Soares, spokesman of Wenunuk Clan house, said he felt the ceremony went really well, because the chicken liver “gave no indication” Covid-19 would attack Timor-Leste.

“Today we come together to ask for all the supernatural [forces] – the tree, the rock, the water, sea and clan houses – to give warm shelter to us all, and to take away the bad disease of Covid-19,” he told TATOLI.

Timor-Leste is overwhelmingly Catholic, but traditional healers and spiritual leaders remain influential in many districts. Village life often combines modern science with animist ritual.

The men led a customary worship, summoning the spirits of their ancestors with prayers, and putting them to work “blocking” (satan) the virus from the people.

“The cultural leaders consider the Covid-19 pandemic a bad disease, therefore the way to prevent it is to revive all the supernatural [forces] to resist [the virus]. So the rituals need to be realised,” he said.

Timor-Leste has just one confirmed case of Covid-19, and health authorities said the patient has begun to recover. But the global pandemic is not the first this year to afflict Timor: African Swine Fever devastated the country’s pig population, killing at least 16,000 animals.

Mr Adão said the “signs” from the chicken liver show the pigs did not die in vain; in fact, their lives were “exchanged” to protect people from from Covid-19.

“Through the ritual, we ask all the supernatural [forces] to follow us and repel the disease that caused the pigs to die, the goats to die, and all the diseases that happen such as the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“We offered grilled goat, pork, and chicken, and we see there aren’t any bad signs; [instead] there is a good way for the spirits to take the disease out of Timor-Leste,” he added.

Clan calls away Covid curse

TATOLI joined the group as the leaders began the ritual at the Wenunuk Clan House. The elders from all the villages with their descendants began in quiet prayer, before crying out, carrying bamboo sticks (ai-fafulu), which were sharpened to a fine point, with bladed edges.

The men then wielded the weapons around a sacred rock, a sacred tree (ai-lulik) and the clan house seven times; a ritual believed to bring out all the diseases and sickness and then throw the evil out to sea.

Clan leaders take part in the Covid19-banishing ceremony (Image/Ego Perreira)

After the ceremony, Duarte Amaral, a descendent of the Wenunuk Clan, said he felt glad to take part in the ritual, because Timor-Leste will not just be rid of the virus, he claimed, but blessed into the future.

“The ceremony we are doing – besides calling for more rain – will also [help us] withstand and repel the virus. We believe the supernatural will withstand all the disease and repel it,” he said.

Around 100 men took part in the ceremony, including members of the Timor-Leste government, the National Police and the Armed Forces (F-FDTL). The event took place on Friday, before the government’s State of Emergency suspending cultural events and large gatherings came into effect.

Under the decree, residents are urged not to meet in large numbers, to wash their hands regularly and thoroughly, and not to leave their homes unless to gather essential supplies or for an important job.

The elders said they will meet again for a closing ceremony, when the virus has “vanished” from the country once and for all.

Read the original Tetum story here: Sinál iha Manu-Aten Hatudu, COVID-19 La Atake Timor-Leste

Journalist: Eugénio Pereira

Editors: Robert Baird, Francisco Simões

Translation: Nelia Borges


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