Glance-back the tradition of All Souls’ Day: How do we celebrate it in Tutuala?

Sitting outside in my little gazebo, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere and quiet streets of Palapaso, Dili, it evokes my desire to write something about all souls’ day. Not because I feel lonely, nor because everyone going back to the village on vacation and celebrates this special day with their families, but maybe this is also an appropriate time for me to take a little look back at the tradition of “all souls day”. I want to craft something that can glance back at my childhood memory in the past and now. Please enjoy my short narrative story here.

Every November 2, is a day of great celebration for us in Timor-Leste to be with our families, enjoying tua sabu (traditional liquor) and food; eating together with all the ancestors and unseen spirits of families and relatives who have passed away is a unique day at this moment. Before celebrating this event, there are several preparatory stages that we normally have to do in Timor-Leste. For example, 2 days before the event, we clean the graves, do some minor maintenance, prepare food, flowers, and candles. It actually happens every year. Although every Timorese has the same traditions, in several places people hold different celebrations including the preparation process according to their local traditions. For example, in Lospalos, in my hometown Tutuala, which still has a strong and unique culture; This community does have its own unique and historical tradition in celebrating Finado in Fataluku, known as Humara-Vaci (all Souls’ Day).

As a child from the village, originally from Tutuala’s hometown, I have enjoyed this long tradition since my childhood. For me, this moment is a unique celebration. Writing this short narrative story reminds me of how to enjoy and celebrate this event with my family and community in my village, back to some years ago. I still remember that moment, before coming to this event, at least one week before, I used to join my father who is super great, he has multi-talents and skills to use nature as our source of livelihood, where we enjoy hunting activities of wild animals and fishing. We used to spend at least a week amidst the immense nature along with the southern and eastern areas of Tutuala, either hunting or we decided to go fishing. My dad has a good freediving skill, with a small handcrafted hunting rifle, he can catch (shoot some fish) within a few minutes or a few hours in the middle of the sea.

Photo of the Fonseca family celebrating Loron Finado (All souls’ day) in Iramiri, this photo was taken in 2018.

That’s all our preparation, we need to bring food supplies, especially eating some kind of meat and fish is very important; for other variety of foods, (traditional food: sweet potato, cassava, and other types of snacks) my mother and other sisters are usually prepared to be served at the cemetery. Every family does the same at this event. We do not celebrate alone, but all family members from one family lineage, or one clan, for example, together with my little family, from the Fonseca family, we used to celebrate together, but also it does not mean we neglect the family from my mother’s side, we also pay attention This is from my mother’s side, who actually comes from a large family or one of the big clans in Tutuala.

When the day we have been waiting for has arrived, surely in the morning, it is part of the Catholic tradition that everyone goes to church. Usually, we prepare flowers and candles, put them in front of the altar to be blessed with holy water from the priest or in Fataluku we called Mar Te ‘I (priest).

On that day, particularly for children, they will be so much excited because their parents will decide who will go to the mother’s side family and father’s side family. That’s the way to maintain fairness between the matriarchal and patriarchal ways. Nobody will dominate or control it or only comes to one side. Normally, my mother decides to go to her family members who are actually in another village and my father does the same, they both go to their respective family members. We follow them according to what has been divided, then they decide which place is the meeting point to celebrate humara-vaci (all Souls’ day). Or we can go around, visit all the family graves from the mother and father’s sides because of Tutuala with four villages which are very close together, easy to reach them.

After visiting all the graves, we felt tired. Some of the graves are far from our village, it requires walking for several kilometers. This is because some of our ancestors and our families lived in the area in the past, which may now have become a forest area. Although it takes some distance to visit all the family graves, still we used to enjoy this event.

Well, now, time for food. Food is usually prepared by women (all younger siblings, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers), they are better at preparing food, while boys and fathers or uncles prepare liquor and betel nut to be served on the grave before eating together. In our tradition, the liquor which we call it in Fataluku Tua Raki is an important symbol, especially in every grave where grandfather/mothers and uncles are big guys (senior), we need to put a cup of liquor on their graves as a symbol to make (cheers). But all this, of course, will be done after the event of sowing flowers, lighting-up candles, and praying together.

For a small traditional ritual, especially to communicate with all souls, someone needs to lead it. She/she (usually the older guy with white hair in the family) will be saying a few words to communicate our ancestors for blessing us to be always in good health and fortune, then pouring traditional liquor. Sometimes also putting betel nut and some coins as a symbol of traditional offers. Here, I want to highlight that liquor is a symbolic medium of offering to our ancestors, we usually say in Fataluku (our mother tongue): “Enit tua tein I, afit har Tua em horucutu” (This is a holy liquor, please take it and we drink it together).

After the ritual of offerings and communication, asking for protection from the ancestors has been completed, the next activity is eating. All our food, we put it in one place, sit around and start eating. Then we continue until the afternoon, some people may drink until they feel a little “high or drunk” but either way, everyone is under control.

Take a look, in this photo, I’m a little high. I was invited by one of my aunts to cue betel nuts. Wow, my lips are very thick and red because I used a lot of white chalk, and I ended up feeling dizzy, but this betel nut is great, strong, and amazing. Photo@Celso-2018..

Of course, this story is not complete, but at least that’s what I can still remember and illustrated here, especially about what we are doing to celebrate all souls’ day in Tutuala. Recently it has become a very ironic issue that carrying drinks in graves is prohibited by the state. Although without strong justification, there was a statement from one of the police commanders (Timor-Leste national police), the message was contradictory, causing negative reactions especially relate to social and cultural life in Timor-Leste. However, the tradition of celebrating Humara-Vaci is still alive and has become part of the social life and tradition of Timorese, especially in Tutuala, this is part of our traditional life that has been there from generation to generation.

Loron Finado ba Ita hotu (Happy all soul’s day).

Celso Fonseca.


Published by Celso Da Fonseca

I'm just a dreamer who enjoys my freedom. Freethinker, free writer, and free dream.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: