by Assoc. Prof. Andrew McWilliam, Anthropology, CHL.
Pyone Myat Thu (pictured here with her friend Atifa, while on fieldwork in Timor Leste) was awarded her Phd in March 2013 for her dissertation entitled ‘Negotiating Displacement: A Study of Land and Livelihoods in Rural East Timor’.
One of the enduring legacies of the 24 years of Indonesian occupation of East Timor has been the impact of widespread forced displacement and resettlement of rural populations. Independence brought with it the possibility of return to origin settlements but reduced circumstances and long term acculturation to new settlements complicates decision making. The thesis offers a fine grained comparative exploration of this under-researched topic. Pyone anchors her study in extended case studies of two displaced communities in the rural hinterland of East Timor, highlighting the diverse ways that Timorese have transformed their relations to place through the experience. Access to land in the new settlements is gained through customary land rights based on social, economic and ethno-historical ties with customary ‘hosts’. Negotiating an existence resulting from displacement requires thoughtful attention to the intricacies of local histories and cosmologies as the communities come to lead multi-local livelihoods, and at the same time, activate multiple ‘belongings’. Her study is an important ethnographic contribution to our understanding of post-conflict livelihood restoration and the significance of customary land attachment.
Since submitting her Phd, Pyone has taken up a 2 year appointment with the State Society and Governance in Melanesia Program (SSGM) contributing to a growing research focus on East Timor (Timor-Leste) within the College of Asia and the Pacific. We congratulate Pyone on her achievements and look forward to her further scholarly accomplishments in the future.
And the final word to Pyone:
“I wish to express sincere gratitude to Dr Andrew McWilliam. Andrew served as a crucial sounding board for many ideas and provided valuable feedback on my draft chapters. I am deeply grateful for his mentoring, patience and the wisdom he has imparted through the years. I also benefitted from the guidance of Dr Bryant Allen and Professor Katherine Gibson from the former Human Geography Department in RSPAS who encouraged and challenged my work in the early stages of my candidature. Finally, my thanks to interlocutors in East Timor; without their generous time and consent this work would not have been possible.”