Debus Seloi (Seloi Lake) in Aileu Municipality

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Debus Seloi lake

According to a local people I met, the word Debus mean lake in Mambae, a dialect spoken by people from Aileu. Seloi is a village in Aileu municipality, a municipality in the northwestern part of Timor-Leste and is one of only two landlocked districts, the other being Ermera. It borders Dili to the north, Manatuto to the east, Manufahi to the southeast, Ainaro to the south, Ermera to the west, and Liquiçá to the northwest. It was formerly part of the district of Dili but was split in the final years of Portuguese administration.

I had my first visit to this lake in 2013 during an office assignment. To get to this lake, one has to travel during one hour from Aileu Villa (Aileu city) with a four-wheel drive typed vehicle to reach this village. It takes around one and a half hour to reach Aileu from Dili. I did not go closely to the lake but I could only enjoy the view from the hill. Debus Seloi is a permanent lake that becomes the source of irrigation for rice fields and the vegetable field surrounding it.Looking at the Debus Seloi from the hill where I stand made me shiver with its serenity as the cold wind blowing slowly towards me. Aileu has a cold and fresh weather temperature.

A local people came nearby greeted me friendly and I greeted him as well. He then told me that every year prior to harvesting time, there is a communal traditional thanksgiving ceremony held in this lake. People in Seloi village mostly grow paddies, corns, and vegetables. Indeed these agricultural products become the supply for vegetable stocks in Dili, the capital city of Timor-Leste. A ceremony he told me has held annually as an act of gratitude towards the universe and the soul of deceased ancestors for the blessings on the crops for this year and the hope for best harvest for the coming years as well.

Prior to the ceremony, the head of each sub-village together with the Lianain (traditional village authority) in the Seloi villages will make coordination in order to discuss the materials needed for the ceremony and the contents of the ceremony programs. Within this coordination, an agreement will need to settle as well as the certain arrangement and task distributions to be made amongst the head of villages to organize their people to work for the preparation of the ceremony. On the agreement of the coordination, each head of villages arrange will animals such as buffaloes, chickens, goats or pigs to be sacrificed during the ceremony as an offer to the rituals. Later during the ceremony, the sacrificed animals will be handover to the community to be cooked and consumed during the ceremonial festivity. During this festivity and local men and women, adults and young people will be expected to participate in the ceremony as a compulsory social contribution.

Apart of the ceremony, there is a fishing race program held, where each representative from the sub-villages will participate and do the fishing in the lake as a symbol of gathering the lucky for the village. The more fish every fisher caught, the luckier the fisher would be and as well as his sub-village, the local villager told me.  However, the fish that have been caught are not allowed to be taken to the home and should be returned back to the lake as the fish are considered by the Lianain as sacred entities and they are the spiritual owner of the lake who looks after the lake and maintains the water in the lake to continue available for the village.

During the ceremony, there will be dancing and singing in traditional ways such as Dahur (dancing and singing together in the group) and Tebe (rhythmical step dancing with traditional acoustic drum instruments called  Babadok)  where everyone can enjoy the festivity.

VZ, Aileu, 2013

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