Ethnographic Film and Study Guide


Susanna Barnes, University of Saskatchewan, Lisa Palmer, Tamsin Wagner (editor), University of Melbourne

Learning Objectives:

  1. Learn about diverse healing modalities present in rural and urban Timor-Leste.
  2. Understand how health and healing practices are embedded social networks of exchange and reciprocity and rooted in local spiritual ecologies.
  3. Consider challenges and opportunities for collaboration across the customary and formal health sector.


This resource includes a link to the film Holding Tightly Custom and Healing in Timor-Leste and accompanying Study Guide. The film observes seven approaches to healing in remote, rural and urban parts of the Baucau Municipality in the Timor-Leste’s east, spanning contexts and experiences from the armed resistance era to Timor-Leste’s independence period. According to their circumstances and access to resources, families share treatments for everyday ailments, while specialist healers hone their diagnostic and therapeutic skills for more complicated medical and/or spiritual conditions. Medicinal plant, divinatory and other knowledge is continually developed and refined in response to need and opportunity. Within this diversity are common threads of shared belief, respect, cultural vitality, commitment, and resilience. While working apart from formal health institutions, the insights of these practitioners underscore some challenges and opportunities for mutual coordination. The Study Guide provides useful background to the film and also the diversity of healing practices in Timor-Leste. It also provides some discussion points for use after viewing the film.


Access film and study guide via:

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