The Fataluku people of Timor-Leste (East Timor) are an ethnic minority renowned for their elegant totem houses on stilts, sacred houses called uma lulik. These holy huts symbolize a link between the past and present, the dead and the living.
There are traditional uma lulik still in place throughout the indigenous villages of East Timor, as well as several replica houses built more recently to honor the tradition and to display the Fataluku people’s craftsmanship.
These homes, which are built or renovated every 10 to 20 years, serve as a bond between families. The rebuilding process strengthens the ties between the past and the present and families that members are born into and those they choose. A uma lulik belongs to a specific family, but it also stands for all other descendant groups that have formed a bond with it through marriages. Ultimately, uma lulik embody the spirit of the family, its network, history, traditions, and, inevitably, its essence.
The presence of the uma lulik is as a testament to the resilience of the Fataluku people. First colonized by Portugal in the 16th century, the island was later occupied by Japan and Indonesia. The indigenous people were persecuted during Indonesia’s 25-year occupation. During this time, many of uma lulik were destroyed or fell into disrepair. In 2002, when the country gained its independence, a resurgence of traditional customs emerged and these sacred homes began appear again.
Uma lulik are usually built with local timber, bamboo and twine. Yet, each and every element transcends its physical properties and is charged with symbolism. This mingling of physicality and spirituality is extended to the way each element of the uma lulik is bound together with others to form something higher than itself. The structures are a connection between past and present, those here and those who have gone.
Know Before You Go
Uma Lulik can be found in villages throughout Timor-Leste. The above coordinates are for a sacred house in the Lospalos district.