Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1861 Timorese meo
Subjectmeo 'cat' warrior chief
Culture: Tetum, Atoni, other native Timorese
Setting: tribal warfare, Timor 19th-early 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."

​* Vanishing beauty 2016 p211
"The Timorese preoccupation with balancing and unifying the opposing forces of heat and coolness, light and dark, sun and moon, and male and female is shared by other eastern Indonesian societies.  It is apparent not only in ideas about marriage, clothing, jewelry, and the organization of villages and dwellings, but also in the political structures governing communities.  The immobile and passive lord of the Timorese state, for example, dwelt at its ceremonial center, adorned in gold ornaments, which were classified as masculine.  His war leader and warriors -- the ferocious meo ('cats') -- were arrayed in bright, blinding, yet feminine silver.  Thus the most powerful male leader was considered ritually feminine in some respects, although he wore symbols of masculinity, and the most aggressive men were arrayed in ornaments that signified femininity."


* 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."

* Maxwell 2014 p10?
"[I]n Timor the intricate twined and tapestry-woven accessories of the méo warriors are some of the finest textile work from that island."


* Vanishing beauty 2016 p211
"[B]racelets with geometric designs [were] worn by warriors of the Atoni Pah Meto ('people of the dry land') who occupy most of what is now the Indonesian western half of the island.  Although the Atoni are gifted weavers, producing vivid indigo, red, white, and yellow striped cloths depicting bold crocodiles, lizards, birds, and human figures, they did not work in metal.  Rather, many of their gold and silver ornaments were commissioned from itinerant jewelers from the tiny island of Ndao, whose entire male population worked as silversmiths.  The Atoni also acquired silver jewelry from the Belu people of central Timor or by trade from over the frontiera, the Portuguese borderland.
    "In western Timor competition between numerous small kingdoms over land, sandalwood trees, and cattle produced an ongoing state of enmity, ritualized violence, and headhunting until Dutch pacification in the early twentieth century.  It was the role of the Atoni warrior, the invulnerable man with a 'body of iron and head of stone,' to patrol its borders and to 'kick the land': to expand its territory.  Bracelets known as niti maskuna (teeth bracelets'), embellished with spikes or protruding knobs resembling the skulls of the defeated enemy, served as weapons in hand-to-hand fighting.  The Atoni warrior's appearance was both terrifying and magnificent.  As a headdress, he wore a shining silver crescent moon symbolizing growth, power, and courage; his cartridge belt was covered in silver disks; his sword and muzzle loader were decorated with silver strips; his teeth were sheathed in gold; and his ankles were adorned with tinkling silver bells.  In the words of a former warrior recorded by a Dutch missionary in the 1930s: 'In the morning, we examined the attire of the dead headhunter ... this man was like a big buffalo; oh no, oh no; this man looked splendid and so did his attire; his wraps were beautiful, his wrists were covered in silver bracelets -- everything was splendid.'
    "Once an enemy's head had been struck off, his body would be stripped of ornaments, which were then worn or used in marriage negotiations by the victors.  A prospective groom's family was obliged to present 'hard' and 'hot' metal valuables, such as swords and gold or silver disks to the bride's family in exchange for their 'cool,' 'soft,' handwoven cloths, foodstuffs, and the promise of fertility inherent in the bride's youth.  Masculine gifts were considered emblems of male creativity, which was expressed in the acquisition of precious goods from outside the community through trade, travel, hunting, and warfare.  In the logic of warfare it was the role and responsibility of men to kill so that new life could come into being.  Feminine creativity manifested itself in childbearing, agriculture, and weaving."

* Power and gold 1988 p