Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1861 Timorese meo
Subjectmeo warrior chief
Culture: Tetum, Atoni, other native Timorese
Setting: tribal warfare, Timor 19th-20thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Hicks 1976 p7 caption
"Before Europeans imposed a firm colonial hand on Timor ... chiefs would lead their warriors into head-hunting forays ...." 

* Hoskins ed. 1996 p128-129 (Andrew McWilliam, "Severed heads that germinate the state: History, politics, and headhunting in southwest Timor" p127-166)
"The territory proliferated in small semi-independent political states and petty chiefdoms, each composed of a cluster of clans surrounding a ceremonial ruling center to which tribute was delivered.  Most areas were also subject to periodically fierce internal feuds and unrest.  This situation was in large part the legacy of centuries of protracted struggle between Dutch and Portuguese colonial interests in eastern Indonesia.  Among the prizes contested by these interests was control of the lucrative export trade in beeswax and white sandalwood, which grew in abundance on the island of Timor.
    "[...] [D]uring the turbulent period of the nineteenth century, warfare and the pursuit of headhunting represented a key dynamic in the formation and transformation of the indigenous Timorese states."  [references omitted]

* Wallace 1890 p150-151 (describing his visit to Delli [Dili] in 1861)
"The Timorese are generally great thieves, but are not bloodthirsty.  They fight continually among themselves and take every opportunity of kidnapping unprotected people of other tribes for slaves; but Europeans may pass anywhere through the country in safety.  Except a few half-breeds in the town, there are no native Christians in the island of Timor.  The people retain their independence in a great measure, and both dislike and despise their would-be rulers, whether Portuguese or Dutch."

* Hoskins ed. 1996 p132-133 (Andrew McWilliam, "Severed heads that germinate the state: History, politics, and headhunting in southwest Timor" p127-166)
"The principal meaning of the term meo among the Meto is 'cat,' but it carries the secondary meaning of a man who has taken a human head in warfare.  In the past, the title of meo connoted warrior status and represented an avenue for young men to achieve prestige and renown.  The meo was considered pa'e (a hero) and was variously referred to as an atoin monef (a masculine man) or as nakfatu (invulnerable; literally, stone head).  Becoming a meo was also probably part of a young man's rite of passage into adulthood and marriage. ... '[T]he headhunting raid and marriage, death and life, are inseparably linked together.'
    "Because of the marked seasonality of Timor's climate, Meto warfare was mainly undertaken during the dry season.  Thus, the end of the monsoon rains brought with it both the anticipation and the dread of headhunting.  With it came the opportunity for young men to attain the status of meo.  Generally speaking, this title was open to all male members of Meto society who participated in a successful headhunting raid.  Thenceforth they became asu makenat (dogs of war) and were entitled to wear the insignia of this office, such as silver armbands, horsehair leglets, and elaborate headdresses studded with silver and gold coins.
    "Ritual violence and the cult of headhunting formed an integral part of the social and political landscape of central West Timor prior to the twentieth century."  [references omitted]

* Draeger 1972 p196
"Timorese natives are not specially known for their bravery. They can be counted on to fight in a cowardly fashion, ambush being their forte. These warriors of Timor, the large island lying southeast of Flores and northwest of Darwin, Australia ... fight from both mounted and unmounted positions.
    "On foot, Timorese fighting men show favorable disposition toward protective body armor and additionally carry a shield (tameng). Dr. Duefendecker describes them:
Every man was armed with a spear and a long knife, and if he had not a long Tower flint lock over his shoulder, he grasped a bow and a handful of arrows, light shafts are made of the tall canes that grow everywhere in the island tipped with poisonous bamboo barbs. Many of them carried besides a buffalo hide shield to ward off the stones which, suddenly engaged, they are in a habit of discharging and with wonderful power and accuracy -- at each other."


* van Zonneveld 2001 p51
A sword with an almost rectangular upper part at the hilt.  The upper part of the scabbard is also rectangular.  The straight blade is rather slender. ..."

* Steel and magic 2020 p102
"[A] hemola [is] a type of weapon appearing only in Western Timor and the islands of Alor, Rote, and Savu west of Timor.  The hemola is usually associated with the islands of Rote (Roti) and Savu even though it is traditionally a Timorese creation.  Swords with a straight blade and elaborate hilts seem to be linked with Western Timor, while curved blades (surik) seem to be more common in Central and Eastern Timor."


* Anawalt 2007 p298
"Timor is another of the outer islands known for its distinctive warp ikats. The brightly colored Timor textiles often include bold anthropomorphic images and bird forms. This is particularly true of the cloths of the Atoni people who live in the island's western half. The broad rectangular webs produced by Atoni weavers are often sewn together in the warp direction to create wider garments. Men use these flat, fringed pieces to wrap around the hips; some single-web cloths serve as ceremonial shawls. To the iconographically aware Timorese, each stranger's clothing telegraphs a message of home locale and alliance, often unsettling revelations in earlier, headhunting times."


* Power and gold 1988 p