Marriage Traps: Colonial Interactions with Indigenous Marriage Ties in East Timor


in Racism and Ethnic Relations in the Portuguese-Speaking World

Published by British Academy

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780197265246
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754197 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

Marriage Traps: Colonial Interactions with Indigenous Marriage Ties in East Timor

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This chapter explores Portuguese colonial relations with Timorese marriage institutions during the late colonial period. By drawing on the rich colonial history of the barlake (traditional marriage contracts) in East Timor, it proposes a novel approach to the trope of intermarriage in the Portuguese-speaking world. In addressing the variety of relationships with marriage in colonial practice, the chapter conceptualises three main types of colonial interactions with indigenous marriage: predatory, parasitic and mimetic. It uses case studies to show how these distinct forms of interaction could be associated with distinct colonial agents and their particular agendas. The chapter shows how, in late nineteenth-century East Timor, colonial relationships with barlake were marked by a tense coexistence between, on the one hand, the predatory model followed by the Catholic missionaries, and, on the other hand, the parasitic exploitation of indigenous marriage ties, customarily practised by colonial officers and governors.

Keywords: barlake; intermarriage; exchange; parasitism; missionaries; colonial officers; Portuguese colonialism; East Timor

Chapter.  10636 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Colonialism and Imperialism

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