New Publication: Well-known and little understood. Martial arts groups in Timor-Leste

Dr. Janina Pawelz

Street fights involving male youths are a long-standing global phenomenon. In Timor-Leste, rival martial arts groups (MAGs) are commonly linked to youth violence. They gained prominence during discussions on post-conflict challenges and destabilising factors that threaten the security and peace of the young nation. In mid-2013, the government of Timor-Leste banned three MAGs perceived to be threatening public order and social harmony. MAGs claim to have been scapegoated and their activities poorly understood. Despite the long history and broad membership of such groups throughout society, the image of the violent troublemaker prevails and little is known beyond this perception. This chapter provides some unique insights into the internal organisation, philosophical background, social engagement, and political nexus of MAGs. The findings help to comprehend the dynamics of attraction that MAGs exert over thousands of Timorese youth. The data are derived from a series of interviews with leading representatives of prominent MAGs and present their perspectives for a better understanding of what was once a favourite extracurricular activity for youthful Timorese.


Pawelz, Janina (2019): Well-known and little understood: martial arts groups in Timor-Leste, in: Handbook on Contemporary Timor-Leste, Routledge, 197-209