About the Project

Digitizing the Justino Valentim Collection of Vaihoho Sung-Poems, Lautem, Timor-Leste
Project Grant

This project supports the preservation of critically endangered Vaihoho sung-stories of the Fataluku people of Timor-Leste. Vaihoho are considered the Fataluku’s most valued repertoire, as the major form of their continuing oral tradition. From 1999-2014, cultural leader Justino Valentim (deceased), recorded a significant amount of vaihoho material. Up until 2019 this handwritten collection was stored in exercise books at his family home. In danger of vanishing with the last of the knowledge-holders, the collection was digitally recorded and archived, to honour Justino Valentim’s intention to keep the oral tradition alive for future generations so they would know their own culture. The collection consists of 17 sung poems gathered from Fataluku communities across the Lautem region of Timor-Leste and 5 Fataluku language dictionaries.

Project Lead

Ildefonso da Silva

Host Institution

Faculty of Fine Arts and Music, University of Melbourne

More Information

Collection Details

The Fataluku people of Timor-Leste have a sacred form of storytelling known as Vaihoho, the dominant form of an ongoing oral tradition. A late cultural leader of the Fataluku people, Justino Valentim, recorded and preserved a significant amount of this tradition in exercise books and hard-drives, which are stored in his family home. In addition to the written records of the Vaihoho songs, the University of Melbourne (Australia) focuses their project on a collection of notes, poems, and photos involving Vaihoho. The material dates from 1999-2014.

The Fataluku population is spread across various clans (rutu in Fataluku), and it is rare for any individual researcher to be allowed permission to obtain cultural data from the different clans. Justino Valentim was an expert in Fataluku culture as well as a recognized member of the resistance who dedicated his life to the community’s well-being-- this allowed him to be successful in researching and recording the population’s cultural practices.

The practice of Vaihoho is critically endangered. As time progressed, war and colonization discouraged younger generations from learning and engaging in Vaihoho practices. In response to these circumstances, Valentim worked for years gathering a large collection of Vaihoho song-poems and accompanying music from across Fataluku country. However, the collection has not been stored adequately to preserve their safety nor make them accessible. Valentim's family and former employer (NGO Many Hands International) are now seeking to honor Justino's intention of giving his community access to their material culture, and to ensure that the collection be protected from harm.

In addition to its use for anthropologists, ethnomusicology researchers, and historians, this collection is of great community and sentimental value for those in Timor-Leste. The University of Melbourne’s digitization work on Valentim’s archive will allow users to explore the historical Vaihoho tradition and will serve as a link between all generations that forebear the Fataluku culture.

Vaihoho is a tool to convey important messages about life and culture. It was once, one of the few ways stories and lessons were conveyed...They taught us how to know each other, how to respect each other and how to know our own cultural identity, because culture can strengthen our bond as a people and a community.

Ildefonso da Silva, Project Lead

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