AUSTRALIAN GEOGRAPHER https://doi.org/10.1080/00049182.2023.2174597 Remittances for marriage: quality of life changes among seasonal worker households in Timor-Leste a b Annie Wu and Andrew McWilliam a b School of Geosciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia; Faculty of Social Sciences, Western Sydney University, Sydney, Australia ABSTRACT KEYWORDS Bridewealth; Australian The Australian Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) has oﬀered seasonal worker programme; opportunities for Timorese citizens to engage in farm labour and Timor-Leste; impacts of hospitality jobs in rural Australia for periods of six months. remittances; marriage; living Savings and remittance from this work oﬀers a powerful and self- quality directing development tool that could improve living standards for participating households. In this paper, we argue that remittances invested in social relationships through ceremonies and customary exchange are beneﬁcial for building enhanced social and ﬁnancial capital in Timorese society. Cash contributions to support household consumption, purchase domestic appliances, education costs of siblings, house construction, ceremony costs and bridewealth (barlake) demands, are all important aspects of contemporary social life in Timor-Leste that are sustained by labour migration remittances. Social networking is thus crucial for enabling access to better resources and opportunities in Timor-Leste and remittances that focus on social relationship maintenance are therefore highly signiﬁcant. Potentially they provide the ability for some return workers to aﬀord higher bridewealth demands and in the process facilitate social mobility for seasonal workers while advancing a broader quality of life. Introduction I work hard for the future … Sometimes someone says that rough harvesting work is nothing, but rough work can make us happy in the future. This is my life. – A Timorese seasonal worker In this paper, the social impact of remittances directed to marriage and maintaining social relationships is examined. We argue that this type of arrangement supports the management of migration costs and the re-engagement with social life for Timorese hor- ticultural and hospitality workers, following their return from the Australian Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP). Further, ﬁnancial arrangements that support marriage- associated costs arguably have a direct link to the improvement of living standards for migrant households in more substantial ways, including improved housing conditions, support for household consumption needs and other relevant expenditure that CONTACT Annie Wu email@example.com © 2023 Geographical Society of New South Wales Inc. 2 A. WU AND A. MCWILLIAM contribute to a modern lifestyle. The marital union is one of the most signiﬁcant events in Timorese life and is regarded as an oﬃcial means of pooling resources for Timorese couples. Remittances lead to improvements in material life for the SWP participants who expend signiﬁcant ﬁnancial resources in marriage. The practice of negotiating bridewealth or ‘barlake’ (Morris 1984) refers to a matri- monial contract involving the exchange of goods of equivalent value between the families representing the marrying couple. Generating the required bridewealth contri- bution to ensure a successful marriage negotiation is an important motivation among seasonal workers. In this paper, our research suggests that savings and remittances invested in bridewealth and relevant household expenditure for customary weddings, has the eﬀect of triggering improvements in living standards as the commitment to a brideprice generates social stability and community support for recognised marital unions. It also oﬀers enhanced social status for some in Timor-Leste labour migrants through capital accumulation (Naiditch and Vranceanu 2011). Weddings and other traditional ceremonies are demonstrations of social status and economic capacity. They also oﬀer an accepted pathways to secure community membership (Sana 2005) and may provide gifts that can be exchanged to forge upwardly mobile alliances (Singh, Robertson, and Cabraal 2012) or other forms of beneﬁt, such as future earnings and physical assets. Here, empirical materials from the latest SWP migration together with evidence of the increased aﬀordability to fulﬁl barlake and other traditional practices are utilised to examine the practice of Timorese marriages supported by savings and remittances. Some existing research on gender relations and politics has suggested that the practice of barlake may be a risk factor for mental stress (Rees et al. 2016), family conﬂict (Macdonald 2012), violence (Gerry and Sjolin 2018, p. 3) and economic disadvantage (Corcoran-Nantes 2009) if the negotiations between both families fail to reach agree- ment. While seasonal workers’ remittances are not only spent on barlake but also on relevant sponsorship for matrimonial relationships, this paper focuses on the growth of remittances through participation in the SWP, which has previously limited research participants to the male workers. Savings among participating workers are often dedi- cated to career development such as entrepreneurship or personal investments; while remittances of workers who are transferred back to their families are often designated for ‘communal use’ within the family including bridewealth. Workers admitted to the SWP are required to demonstrate adequate English language capacity, physical ﬁtness, and minimum high school education to satisfy the entry requirements. Many aspirants have been professional workers before joining the SWP but seek to fulﬁl their ﬁnancial goals by engaging in seasonal migration. Weddings and related events oﬀer important means by which they can demonstrate how remittances eﬀect in the donor commu- nities – which is aligned to existing knowledge of remittance inﬂuence (Davis and Lopez-Carr 2010). Thus, remittances may be recognised as both a form of develop- ment that helps improve household economies and a mechanism that deepens existing socioeconomic inequalities, because the prerequisites for migration require certain ﬁnancial and social capital to support migration (De Haas 2005; Skeldon 2008). Fur- thermore, the rapid growth in remittances to Timor-Leste from overseas workers is substantial and currently exceeds coﬀee as the largest non-oil export for the country (Curtain 2018). AUSTRALIAN GEOGRAPHER 3 As well as improving standards of living in the donor communities, SWP remittances are recognised as a powerful and self-driving development tool that could aid the devel- opmental process in Timor-Leste while also supporting the labour shortage in Australia – a potential success for both Australia and labour-sourcing countries (Brickenstein 2015; Wigglesworth 2018). This paper addresses the development of livelihood improvements (Eversole and Johnson 2014) that have been enabled by the inﬂux of international remit- tances as well as individual life goals that include completing a customary wedding and sponsoring associated customary practices, either as a motivation to earn remittances, or as remittances expenditures among male seasonal workers returning to Timor-Leste. In largely pre-industrial countries such as Timor-Leste, marriage has traditionally pro- vided a pathway that enables resources to be controlled and household surplus to be shared (Merrill 2010; Silva 2018, 2019). Moreover, the role of remittances among donor communities is elaborated through these customary practices in relation to social network maintenance. In this paper, we examine the results of surveys among SWP workers which provides a new way for temporary Timorese labour migrants to gen- erate comparatively large cash savings which allow them to invest in a range of assets and opportunities when they return to Timor Leste, including directing savings to improve their marriage options. Australia’s seasonal workers programme The Australian Seasonal Workers Programme (SWP) is part of the Australian Aid Pro- gramme for Paciﬁc Island countries and Timor-Leste. The SWP permits citizens of Paciﬁc Island countries and Timor-Leste to work in the Australian horticultural sector for seven months under visa subclass 403 (Seasonal Worker Programme 2017). Potential workers need to be aged between 18 and 55 years, pass a ﬁtness test, have a high school diploma and be able to converse in a required level of English in order to be included in the work-ready pool. The SWP does not provide a pathway to permanent residency but aims to supplement seasonal workforce availability in Australia and provides pathways for directing remittances to the Paciﬁc Island countries and Timor-Leste. There are currently nine Paciﬁc Island Countries (Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu) that participate in the SWP along with Timor-Leste. Australia had cultural connections with Timor-Leste long before its independence from Indonesia and Portugal, while their geographic proxi- mity provides a possible strategic natural support for Australia. The SWP was the ﬁrst oﬃcial and formal channel that enabled migrant workers from Timor-Leste to contribute to agricultural labour shortages in Australia. Today Timor-Leste has approximately 1,300,000 citizens, with around 70% living in rural areas (Molyneux et al. 2012). According to (Quintão 2016) and (UNDP 2012), the poverty rate is 49.9% and unemployment rate now14.8%. As a result an urban– rural migratory phenomenon is apparent among Timorese citizens as they move to the capital (Dili) to seek better paid and formal employment opportunities (Stead 2015). But given the persistently high unemployment rate and the scarcity of employ- ment in the formal sector (Government of Timor-Leste 2017) along with limited oppor- tunities in the informal sector (small-scale agriculture, vendor business, and aquaculture), the attraction of international labour migration is unsurprising. 4 A. WU AND A. MCWILLIAM The SWP allows Timorese citizens to secure a working visa (subclass 416) for six months, renewable annually (Locke 2016), and to pay an annual ﬂat tax rate of 15%. Since its inception the SWP has grown in popularity in Timor Leste as a labour scheme with a high growth rates from approximately 200 workers in 2016 to over 2,000 participants in 2020 (Wu 2020). Materials and methods The study utilised in-depth interviews and digital ﬁeldwork as the primary research methods. Fieldwork was initiated in mid 2018 in Timor-Leste among residents living in the capital Dili for six months. Research participants were initially recruited in rural Aus- tralia via their workplace, accommodation, community hubs and online links. Sampling and recruitment of participants were undertaken in both Timor-Leste and rural Australia. In between departure and return, online digital spaces were used as a platform for recruit- ment. Using the technique of snowball sampling, 50 seasonal worker households were recruited from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. Potential participants were ident- iﬁed through various sources, with the assistance of the labour attaché and other staﬀ at the Timorese embassy in Australia, labour recruitment agents based in diﬀerent Australian states, local churches, national non-proﬁt and non-governmental organisations assisting migrant workers, as well as existing social networks of Indonesian and Timorese students and workers, and referrals from other participants. Twenty-eight participants were either resident in Dili or divided their time between Dili and their home villages (Figure 1). Figure 1. Distribution of research participants in Timor-Leste by gender and place of usual residence. Source: Author’s ﬁeldwork. Note: Dili has more than 150,000 people and Manatuto has 15,000 people; each colour band represents 15,000 people. AUSTRALIAN GEOGRAPHER 5 Semi-structured interviews involved open-ended questions and follow-up surveys to elaborate on participants’ responses (Bernstein and Lysniak 2018). Among the 50 research participants, 31 were in de facto relationships regardless of marital status and had an average of two children. Thirty-nine participants were men, and 60% of workers were engaged in unskilled, unpaid (student), or farming work before joining the SWP. Participants’ median age was 31.4 years. More than half of workers studied in tertiary educational institutions (SWP criteria requires a high school diploma as the minimum level of education). The interviews were conducted in English and Tetum in both rural Australia and Timor-Leste, especially for some expressions that have no equiv- alence in either language. Overall, the use of language was very ﬂexible and highly depen- dent on the English skills of the participants. Online methodologies Between the ﬁeld trips in Australia and a six-month stay in Timor-Leste, participants were contacted using Facebook (including their group posts on several pages) with many conversations undertaken on Messenger. Because dialogue and interview conver- sations are less formal in the online space, participants’ opinions and reﬂections on their lives in both countries may be more authentic. Data collected through online ethnogra- phy (Sade-Beck 2004)oﬀer an innovative and valuable insight into facets of these workers’ lives (in addition to their seasonal labour) because of the close observation. It also ﬁlls the gap between ﬁeld trips, providing more continuous and comprehensive data. Online spaces on social media oﬀer another space for workers to express themselves to their families, close friends and acquaintances with whom they are physically distant. Many participants used Facebook while having breaks in Australia as internet access there is more convenient and aﬀordable than in Timor-Leste. Interactions online such as ‘liking’ posts and images shared among participants established levels of trust and fam- iliarity prior to undertaking the extensive ﬁeldwork in Timor-Leste, while online conver- sations following initial visits and interviews showed extended interest in the seasonal workers. These regular interactions with participants’ migration experiences on social media helped to enhance understanding of their everyday lives from diﬀerent perspectives. Keeping in contact with participants online shows an interest and friendliness that can provide access to engage in subsequent household visits and further interviews due to existing familiarity. Context analysis (Meaux and Osoﬁsan 2016) was the main method used to analyse data collected through interviews and online conversations. Con- textual analysis provides a comprehensive overview for understanding the situated cul- tural and social contexts of Timorese workers. Remittances, livelihood security and marriage for households Our paper addresses the hypothesis that remittances may contribute to inequality in the temporary migratory context of Timor-Leste, where it is possible that the potential mech- anism of remittances can help lessen aspects of existing socioeconomic inequality among seasonal workers. Implicitly, remittances have been considered an attractive product of migration by participants and their home-based households alike. 6 A. WU AND A. MCWILLIAM As Bedford et al. (2017) has emphasised, one of the primary objectives of the SWP in Australia has been to contribute to overall aid development in the Paciﬁc; ﬁlling the unmet demand for labour being a secondary aim (Chattier 2019) has acknowledged that participation in the SWP has had a positive impact on household consumption for migrant communities. It has also improved local investment, helped fund house con- struction, tuition fees for participants and siblings and the ability to meet local church and communal commitments. Once workers earn a standard Australian wage that enables them to fulﬁl their immediate requirements, they tend to return to Australia for the higher wages on oﬀer, so that they can continue to fulﬁl their household and com- munity commitments. Savings and remittances (as the main motivation for the labour migration of seasonal workers) has been viewed as an unoﬃcial alternative aid to devel- opment (Amuedo-Dorantes and Pozo 2004). Therefore, to maintain above-average income and living standards in their donor countries (regardless of the labour conditions in the receiving nations), migrants also tend to stay in the receiving nations or to con- tinue returning to higher wage destinations. The beneﬁts of remittances are utilised as a major investment strategy for livelihood economies in both donor nations and migrant communities. At the household level, building a house and marrying are an interlinked part of life cycle aspirations for young Timorese, usually requiring pooled resources (Murphy 2002). Migration and remittances promote changes in household economies that have a positive eﬀect on the capacity of the participants to build a house and get married. The increased aﬀordability of marriage-associated costs through remittances or savings from the SWP leads to the consolidation of ﬁnancial aspects in participants’ marriages within the com- munity by the action of paying the ‘deposit’ as the ‘guarantee’; some of these relationships provide better social and ﬁnancial capital or opportunities for upward social mobility within Timorese society. The labour migration experience has assisted some workers from less privileged families to enhance their social status via the pathway of marriage, and forging alliances with higher status clans with better resources. Married life -- tends to initiate higher consumption patterns with the arrival of new family members and therefore greater costs. In other words, marriage not only provides a key institution for population growth, but also leads to a higher consumption lifestyle and therefore the need for enhanced ﬁnancial resources. In Timorese culture, family structures and the responsibility for establishing a family tend to be initiated by the groom’s family who need to assemble suﬃcient bridewealth (barlake) to secure agreements from the bride’s households to marry. This is usually a ﬁnancial burden for younger Timorese men especially if their families are poor. In relation to the economic aspects of marriage, there is a contemporary tendency for the more highly educated or salaried the bride price (those who have been the bread winners for families), to attract a higher bride price sought by her parents (Monger 2013). Payment is needed to compensate for a potential ‘loss’ of productivity of the daughter of the ‘house’, and forfeiting all claims of membership to the parental home. Most male participants have commented that ﬁnancial commitment as part of the non-negotiable ‘deal’ of being married. This ensures the combination of mutual beneﬁts as a result of the union between the two families. Savings acquired through work on the SWP play an important role in providing the foundations on which to establish a family by accumulating the necessary cash resources AUSTRALIAN GEOGRAPHER 7 to secure a propitious marriage. At the national level, remittances provide signiﬁcant export earnings for a small state (Bertram 2006; Government of Timor-Leste 2017; Tisdell 2014). At the community level, remittances invested in consumption for liveli- hood maintenance, education, entrepreneurship and community events have been uti- lised as a strategy improve household living standards and reputation within their respective communities (Wu 2020). As Wallman (1996) has argued, livelihoods are jointly and individually constructed through the ownership of resources, the circulation of information, and the management of skills and relationships to combine materials, labour and capital, thereby aﬃrming group identity and its social relationships. Positive outcomes following involvement of circular migration can shift the paradigm of prospective livelihood trajectories and pre-existing consumption patterns for migrant households (Petrou and Connell 2017; Pickbourn 2016; Wong 2006). According to Singh, Robertson, and Cabraal (2012), remit- tances are the most practical and helpful way to connect with the native family and com- munity overseas, overcoming the separation created by geographic distance while acting as a medium for caring (McKay 2007) International remittance is a transnational language that expresses aﬀection, care, fondness and prominence between Timorese workers and their signiﬁcant social connections Most migrant workers labour in devel- oped countries for the primary purpose of accumulating ﬁnancial capital. This is achieved by taking advantage of comparatively higher wages in the host society, usually well in excess of anything available in home countries (De Haas 2010; Ratha et al. 2011; Skeldon 2010; Vertovec 2009). Remittances compensate in part for the absence of the participants working in the donor countries. As numerous researchers on Timor-Leste have observed collective support of family and aﬃliated households is a vital component of economic activities in Timorese society (Batterbury et al. 2015; Stead 2012; Thu and Judge 2017). They suggest that the aﬃliation of kin and aﬃnes in farming, child rearing, inheritance, and other livelihood support activities are particularly reliant on the interwoven kinship within the same locality. Female participants are more prone to indicate the function of investing in aﬃance kin to fulﬁl childrearing and other responsibilities during their absence in the community instead of barlake. Investment in marriages and weddings after the SWP In Timorese society, getting married requires the preparation of a suﬃcient budget to enable a couple to move into a newly built house ideally. The process of preparing for marriage initiates livelihood strategies to secure ﬁnancial resources for house construc- tion, increased agricultural productivity and proactively building social networks to arrange social support for their future absence back in Australia for another season. Remittances devoted to a new house for marriage has both social and cultural impli- cations beyond the ﬁnancial gain of SWP participation. For example, marrying a partner who may be from a clan with a better social reputation and economic means would secure resources and enhance livelihood sustainability through wider access to community support (Wu, Neilson, and Connell 2022). By making barlake more aﬀord- able, increased social security and stability from potential partners’ clans can be nego- tiated or greater accessibility to resources becomes possible after the marriage is 8 A. WU AND A. MCWILLIAM agreed. Establishing a new family in Timor-Leste requires wider communal assistance from a network of related households., Cash savings and remittances have provided many young couples with improved housing conditions and enhanced social networks by being able to participate in community reciprocal exchange arrangements which include marriages, and other life cycle events (Silva 2018). Who is the person providing this quote? – Introduce him as an example. I remember my wedding too two days to complete, but the preparations took weeks. My father-in-law gave me a ‘price list’ that I would have to pay before marrying my wife. There were many things on the list, such as my wife’s educational costs for university of 10 buﬀaloes. We lived together for a few months before [being] oﬃcially being married, [which] incurred the ‘penalty’ of 6 buﬀaloes, my having to live in their family house was cost another 2 buﬀaloes, and others I can’t remember. Then I will say that I accepted all those costs after bargaining a little bit. Afterwards, I was permitted to marry my wife. I owed my father-in-law 50 buﬀaloes before I was able to pay him back [with] my salary in Australia. It was about $8000 for the whole marriage and $2000 more for the clothes and party. Wedding costs and the barlake are expensive for many seasonal workers. Therefore, some couples have not reserved a church wedding, which is synonymous with an oﬃcial marriage registration, nor held the traditional big wedding party in their community, despite already having a number of children. A conventional wedding involves the cost of food, drinks, clothes, venue hire and livestock. Despite being a once-in-a-lifetime event, the wedding party is necessary to consolidate one of the most important social relationships with a partner. These customary ceremonies are great motivation for saving money and sending remittances, because the signiﬁcance of a Timorese traditional wedding has links to commu- nity recognition by dealing with the material obligations imposed by marriage (Silva 2018). Savings and remittances can have a positive eﬀect on marriage rates among seasonal workers due to the aﬀordability of the wedding costs in particular. In an agrarian society such as Timor-Leste, where extended kin are expected to work together (servisu hamutuk), the conditions of marriage are based on a combination of a suitors’ socioeco- nomic circumstances and the historical social relationships that structure both families in customary marriage (USAID et al. 2018, p. 7). If the respective parties are agreed on the suitability of marriage proposal and the arrangements for the mutual gift exchanges and any speciﬁc bridewealth payment obligations, then a wedding date can be set and arrangements put in place. One study participant who had just completed a season in Australia was hesitant to conﬁrm his wedding date until the funeral of his mother had been arranged and his ﬁnancial position was stronger My mother passed away earlier this year and I would like to get married, but the price is unaﬀordable. I could have worked for my father-in-law in the rice ﬁeld for many years if I was not given the chance to get into SWP. [Did you just say father-in-law?] Yes, I am coha- biting with my wife and her family. We have one three-year-old child already. It is just the wedding has not yet happened. It will be a good opportunity to hold my wedding in the next six months. Because we cannot have a big celebration at least a year after my parent’s death. But there is still bridal service. The narrative indicates the common struggle for young men who have insuﬃcient means to pay for their wedding. It is possible that Timorese parents may charge more if the bride’s social position is higher than that of the groom. Marriage is the most eﬀective and legiti- mate method of obtaining resources externally to raise one’s social reputation and standing AUSTRALIAN GEOGRAPHER 9 within Timorese society (Wu 2019). Although the action of ‘marrying up’ to attain a secure livelihood cannot be fulﬁlled without the intervention of remittance ﬂows for SWP partici- pants, previous studies indicate that bride prices can be associated with violence of intimate partners due to ﬁnancial stress (Khan and Hyati 2012; Rees et al. 2017). Many couples involved with the SWP decide to cohabit and have children as well as contributing labour to the in-law family, without completing a church registration for either the catholic or civil marriage and customary wedding. Regardless of whose wedding it is in the migrant household, the expenses belong to the groom’s entire family and the bride’sfamily must be reciprocated in the form of material wealth such as livestock, land, house, textile, and other expensive gifts. Expensive barlake and wedding costs can delay the groom’s career and the start of a new family because the alternative means by which the groom could settle the barlake would generally be a form of unpaid labour for the bride’sfamily. Whilethe bridal price remains unpaid, the existing social hierarchical relationship remains and young men from a less privileged backgrounds continues to lodge in their partner’s house until they can aﬀord the required assets and gifts to become independent as married couples. Savings from seasonal labour help these self-made men (who were not in a privileged societal position prior to migration) to establish a family life within their native societies without compromised living quality. Remittances provide a form of currency that can generate intangible capital, which in turn rewards social standing such as marriage unions or entrepreneurship. This is because there are still many symbolic and cultural regimes outside the capital Dili that are considered elitist in Timor-Leste: privileged and unattainable unless the marital relationship is conﬁrmed (Silva 2019). Material exchanges generate recognition of the relationship. It has been acknowledged that bridewealth is a material guarantee that demonstrates the groom’s capability to take care of the family – especially if the groom’s perceived social caste is below that of the bride (Keane 1997). Without their SWP savings as the foundation to pay oﬀ bridewealth commitments, the aﬃliated beneﬁts of being in a recognised marriage (such as the emotional bonds, social security networks, business connections, and welfare in everyday life) would not be so eﬀectively realised. Temporary labour migration provides a catalyst to enable the beneﬁts associated with matrimonial unions to be realised. Sponsoring a wedding Spending on events and parties provides a platform for settling social debts and consolidat- ing existing familial ties in donor communities (Mahmud 2014; Petrou and Connell 2017). Sponsoring a wedding demonstrates reciprocity, morality, modernity, and a form of ‘social insurance’ for returned workers. A signiﬁcant proportion of remittances spent on gift exchange and social relationship maintenance is utilised for the personal obligations of migrants, as well as their households and close kin (Amuedo-Dorantes and Pozo 2004; Carling 2014; Singh, Robertson, and Cabraal 2012). Remittances used for social and cultural events that connect people and form collective awareness of the community have been ident- iﬁed by (Sana 2005), with the direct beneﬁt of earning recognition in the community through sponsorships. Household life cycle celebrations as public performances in the community facilitate reciprocity for kinship, clans, neighbourhoods, and close friendships (Lévi- Strauss 1969;Mauss 2016). The reciprocity generated via regular social events and generous 10 A. WU AND A. MCWILLIAM sponsorship also reduces the familial and social costs borne by seasonal workers during their absence away. For instance, a returned worker who paid for her brother’s wedding said, ‘My cousin’s wife took care of my three children when I was away. Their big boy would play with my young son. We take care of one another. I remunerate them a bit’. Sponsoring a wedding following a seasonal workers’ return, oﬀers a social hub to con- solidate ties of mutuality in the community. Maintaining a sustainable and supportive community network provides a backup and safety valve for migrants to balance against the social costs of migration. Carrying the expenses of the wedding dress, venue, food, including beverages, cakes, cuisine, and catering costs, demonstrates ﬁlial generosity, ﬁnancial capacity, and achieve- ment stemming from the seasonal work in Australia – all of which are associated with enhanced reputation and honour. Sponsorship is a political statement signifying the retur- nees’ character while obtaining enhanced social status in the neighbourhood, Neighbours acknowledge them for their generosity in taking care of the whole community (rather than keeping the remittances for themselves). In addition, sponsorship demonstrates a respect for tradition, which is considered a desirable virtue among participants. This altruism is closely linked with the migrant families’ reputation and the entire extended family’s ‘social reputation’.Unselﬁsh actions (inviting friends, relatives and even neighbours to the wedding) are a deliberate and important act to maintain local, social relationships. Guests neither need to pay for the costs nor are obliged to bring gifts or cash donations to the hosts in urban settings. In other words, these are ‘free events’ for most of the guests, with the intention of signifying that the person who can host a big function is someone with superior ﬁnances, indicating they are able to take care of their own family and friends (Figure 2). Figure 2. Partying at a family’s wedding with a new tailor-made dress. AUSTRALIAN GEOGRAPHER 11 Timorese weddings always serve excessive amounts of food, which is one of the most signiﬁcant costs. Remittances invested in wedding functions are mostly spent on ﬁne foods that are considered Western (and therefore modern) in Timor-Leste (for example, imported meats, cakes, wine, and soft drinks). The ability to provide excellent food or acquire quality, expensive, appetising cuisine is regarded as distinguished and admirable taste for a seasonal worker, and a display of ‘modernisation’ practices after working in Aus- tralia. Traditional Portuguese ballroom dancing still thrives throughout Timor-Leste as an essential element of each Timorese party. The venue may be their own house or an outside space. Returned workers’ wealth and ﬁnancial status are clearly visible through these actions; accordingly, the security of properties and assets has been an issue for aﬄuent Timorese. Therefore, the quickest and easiest way to disarm hostility that may be caused Figure 3. The cake and champagne sponsored by a seasonal worker. by the economic gap and to ensure community members recognise the eﬀort and input is to extend the invitation throughout the community (Figure 3). Remittance houses after marriage A house is pivotal for providing the symbolically material belonging and a manifestation of agency and productivity in migrants’ lives (Lozanovska 2019). To build a modern house for a new family, and to ensure the entire construction is completed, a migrant worker has to work in Australia for at least three years, especially if the funds are to be disbursed for other family expenditures. The average salary received by a majority of Timorese workers is approximately USD15.25 per hour for a ﬁve-day working week, which equates to approxi- mately USD 497 per week – a highly competitive wage compared with those working in Timor-Leste. Sometimes it requires just two years to complete their house construction as the land was already owned or held by close relatives. Participants’ saving ratio can range from 10% to 43% of their wages, and the motivation to continue building their new house is often the main reason for participants return for another season’s work in Australia. These ongoing eﬀorts to complete the over $5000 USD house are highly visible to the community, sending a message that they are resourceful and cashed up. One third of interviewed workers acknowledged that land purchase and building a new and modern style house was their primary goal. Housing, like sponsoring a wedding (or 12 A. WU AND A. MCWILLIAM constructing an ancestral tomb, supporting the education of siblings) carries with it high cultural value. (Filomeno 2009) has summarised that resources required for the dedication exhibited in building a house is not measured as a marketable asset. Rather, it is another type of investment in security, and reﬂects various hierarchical social relations and social divisions expressed in physical structures of Timorese culture (McWilliam and Traube 2011). Housing, as physical capital, is the most visible and measurable index for estimating a person or family’s success, and reputation. This is especially so for Timorese people who have experienced previous destruction and displacement in the past (Hays 2015). Absent members therefore pay to build a house that oﬀers a more comfortable life- style when they return as a reward for their diligence overseas once the labour migration contract is completed. However, seasonal workers are engaged in physically demanding jobs that would generally not be considered skilled professions. Further, visa restrictions on more permanent immigration pathways for seasonal jobs prevent migrants from legiti- mately establishing an aﬄuent life with their loved ones in destination countries (Mares 2007). Thus, for these and related reasons home building is a guarantee of some sense of spatial security for migrants when they grow older and might not be able to work again overseas in physically demanding jobs. Thus, permanent settlement for the future equates to a high quality of living in their homeland even as many discover, owning a ﬁne house does not provide an ongoing income. Among the study participants, the tendency for more male migrants to spend remit- tances on house building was discernible. Age, birth order, and marital status were key factors that motivate female migrants to build houses for their families. The proportion of married Timorese women who intended to build houses was comparable to that of Timorese men, with many being the eldest daughters in their families. However, it was interesting to note that a handful of unmarried men who were not ﬁrst-born children still intended to build a house (which was not reﬂected in their female counterparts). This helps explains why migrant men were predisposed to building houses for their families because existing patriarchal social relations in Timor-Leste gives male family members the responsibility of being the main contributor to the household, regardless of their marital status later in life. Remitters are considered the central pillar of the household who undertake responsibility for taking care of other family members and building a house for everyone else in the household. A Western-style house is a gift that the most ﬁnancially capable members in the family provide to show their generosity and love for their nearest and dearest.. These remittance houses also increase intrafamilial dependency on both the remitters and remittances (Lopez 2015). Almost every participant in this study had lived with extended family members, and the minimum number of household members in one house with two rooms was six people (including the migrant owner). The chronological order for consumable purchases is the house itself, followed by household appliances. A brick house with attractive, polished tiles indicates aﬄuence in the modern age. Household development and procurement of new assets (including phones, motorcycles, televisions, DVD players, refrigerators, gas stoves, electronic equip- ment and other home improvements) are commonly acquired in remittance receiving countries (Wu 2020). Tiles, toilet, television, and then a fridge, are identiﬁed in order of priority for married workers to equip their new, modern household. As mentioned, tiles are associated with a fashionable appearance and are easily noticed by everyone AUSTRALIAN GEOGRAPHER 13 else to know they have built the house using remittances. (Eich 2002) proposed that tiles are the most accessible material, symbolising cleanliness, a cool temperature, elegance, wealth, beauty, and modernisation; even bathrooms are designed to use tiles to evoke a clean industrial feel. Floors with tiles may be associated with pride in being an ex-Por- tuguese colony and an emblem of upper-class status in tropical Timor-Leste. Tiles also reduce heat and dirt; therefore, tiles continue to be preferred as the main material for construction in Timor-Leste. After the primary investment of house building, the most popularly purchased appli- ances from remittances were mobile phones, televisions and motorcycles. This incli- nation to buy consumer assets resonated with the survey participants on diﬀerences between Timorese migrant and non-migrant households (Housen, Hopkins, and Earnest 2012), the former acquiring cultivated land, a house, and television as the three preferred assets. Migrant households have larger budgets with which to make greater investment in land or a house – at least USD3000 in Dili. Having decent toilet facilities for seasonal workers who have returned home can be a type of social remittance (Levitt 1998), one that is inﬂuenced by living conditions experi- enced in Australia among seasonal workers. Advances in toileting technologies occurred alongside the idea that human waste remains invisible to conform with middle-class norms of respectability. People who are more aﬄuent tend to have more tiles throughout the house (including in the toilet room) in elevated houses. The elevated ground house also ensures there is a proper distance from the ‘dirt’ on the ground. This implies being a better social class, where the desirability of space is determined by the boundaries of the physical space (Astor 2019). The tiled Timorese houses have verandas that allow residents to relax without getting dirty from the ground. Some houses still have a toilet built outside as an annex, but the position of the toilet itself is elevated, which creates a physical distance from possible unhygienic conditions and allows room to install plumbing underneath. This is a new concept brought about by standards of hygiene and modernity. A house in a returnee’s home village may resonate with memories of overseas life, as appliances and amenities are often shipped as part of the building process. It is evident that establishing a modern house might link to a wish for urbanisation or even a Wester- nisation of everyday life (Mata-Codesal 2014). For Timorese workers whose remittances are devoted to house building, this only signiﬁes a more convenient or aﬄuent material life without detaching from Timorese living conventions, which is to live with extended family members and be intimately bound up with the value and expectations of family networks and exchange alliances. Conclusion In this paper, we have argued that seasonal workers’ savings and purchases are linked to livelihood improvement and lifecycle transitions. Holding a traditional wedding to gain recognition among community members provides one motivation to seek lucrative over- seas employment, in this case through the SWP. The ability to pay bridewealth (barlake) commitments and the associated costs of a wedding, along with the expenditure for new or improved family housing, have triggered a growing desire for improved living stan- dards among workers’ and their household members. A more modern lifestyle is one of the key outcomes of house construction. That is to say, the completion of a modern 14 A. WU AND A. MCWILLIAM house initiates the subsequent enhancement of facilities, new furniture, better living quality and convenience of labour-saving appliances and other household equipment (Figures 4 and 5). Figure 4. A house renovated by remittances in Liquica. Figure 5. A house has just begun the construction process after receiving 2 seasons of remittances. AUSTRALIAN GEOGRAPHER 15 Spending priorities are likely to include physical assets and other ‘non-productive invest- ments’ for community network consolidation. The incentives to remit, and the allocation of received transactions in home households, demonstrate the priority and importance of managing social exchange relationships within closely intertwined familial networks. Spon- sorships for wedding banquets, fancy clothing, food and even barlake, speak to the ﬁnancial success and integrity of returned seasonal workers. The importance of reciprocal social relations are deeply connected to weddings, gift exchange, sponsorship, and social obli- gations generated in Timor-Leste for child rearing, social insurance and the emotional support of family while seasonal workers are absent. The need to demonstration ‘face’ and social commitment prompts spending on more expensive items and services in custom- ary ceremonies and events following the workers’ return. Where possible subsequent invest- ment in land and modern-styled homes and other consumption on household appliances, signal the success of returned migrants and conﬁrm the attraction of the labour migration option. The ﬁndings of this study on temporary labour migration and remittance expendi- ture reveals the continuing importance accorded support for familial social relationships, which oﬀsets in varying degree the social costs of extended absences in distant lands. Labour migration also oﬀers a proven pathway to swiftly enhance the ﬁnancial capacity of participants to facilitate successful marriage unions, especially faster repayment of bride- wealth demands and thereby convert cash savings into symbolic social capital. Notes 1. The marital practice ‘barlake’, which literary translates as ‘bridal price’ in Tetum. 2. More recent iterations of the bilateral program require substantial opportunities for female participation. 3. In some areas of Timor-Leste, such as, areas of Bobonaro (Bunaq) and Tetum speaking popu- lations on the south coast, agnatic relationships are focused on matrilineal membership. Men move to the houses of their brides. Typically, barlake requirements are modest in these cases. 4. Fataluku people in Lospalos area have a reputation for seeking higher levels of bridewealth; it is much lower elsewhere. Often participants will continue to live with the father-in-law if he hasn’t paid oﬀ suﬃcient barlake (F: valahana) to his wife’s family. In Suai, there are mar- riage gifts and wedding gifts but no barlake involved. Because the husband moves to join his wife’s household. 5. Bridal service is a classic and typical situation for many young men who wish to get married without cashes and resources to work for their in-laws by living with future wives’ families. In some areas such as Mambai, it is very often the easiest way to get married without barlake. But the newlyweds also have to live with in-laws to compensate the loss of manpower by establishing a new family in somewhere else. Seasonal workers have suﬃcient funds to ﬁnalise the payments much earlier than other Timorese who haven not worked overseas 6. Lavish weddings are the order of the day in urban Dili. In rural contexts, invited guests are usually relatives of one kind of another and obligated to provide gifts to the sponsoring house, which are often then passed on to other guests who represent the other side of the marrying couple. The social compact is the reciprocal exchanges for everyone to participate. They gave what they can by repaying debts, incurring others, or, oﬀering services on the day. Acknowledgements We acknowledge the support provided to the ﬁrst-named author to undertake ﬁeld research in Timor Leste, especially the support of Dr Helen Mary Hill, Tracey Alexandra Morgan, and the 16 A. WU AND A. MCWILLIAM host family in Audian in hosting the visit. We also acknowledge the generous time given by the Timorese research participants, especially those who warmly opened their homes in Timor Leste and allowed continued research engagement through social media. We acknowledge the feedback from Dr Sophie Webber for the early draft in 2020. Disclosure statement No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the author(s). Notes on contributors Dr Annie Wu completed a PhD (Science) in Geography at The University of Sydney, Australia in 2020, and has been awarded a Master of Arts by Research and a Masters of Cultural Studies with Gender and Cultural Studies, also at The University of Sydney. Annie taught various units of studies, including Environmental Resource; Urban and Development Geographies; Gender and Sexuality Studies; Research Methods, and Sociology of Climate Changes. Meanwhile, Annie has been involved in the ARC-funded project, Blue Economy in Asia Paciﬁc, as the second investigator at the University of Technology Sydney until 2021. She worked as a research analyst for Anti- Slavery Taskforce at Sydney Archdiocese in 2022. Annie is ﬂuent in English, Mandarin, Tetum and Taiwanese. Her research interests include human geography, labour and circular migration, space and gender, developmental and social impact, diasporic relations, Southeast Asia and Timor-Leste, rural livelihoods, foreign aid, resource economies and sustainability. Dr Andrew McWilliam is a specialist in the anthropology of Insular Southeast Asia and was worked extensively in Indonesia and East Timor. He also maintains active applied research inter- ests in Northern Australia with a focus on native title and indigenous cultural heritage. He is editor of The Australia Journal of Anthropology (TAJA) and Discipline leader for Anthropology at Western Sydney University. Andrew is a specialist in the anthropology of Insular Southeast Asia with ethnographic interests in eastern Indonesia and Timor-Leste as well as Northern Aus- tralia. His research focuses on the multi-dimensional aspects of rural livelihoods and adaptive tra- ditions in the context of globalization and the pluralist embrace of religious faith practice. In addition to academic research, he has also pursued a range of diverse applied anthropology pro- jects in Indonesia and Timor-Leste including forestry management, upland agriculture and food security and the extractive resource sector in Indonesia, esp. mining, oil and gas. He has under- taken varying periods of ﬁeldwork in Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara Timur, Maluku, & West Papua. In Northern Australia he focuses on Australian Aboriginal land claims, native title connections reports and Indigenous cultural heritage management. ORCID Annie Wu http://orcid.org/0000-0002-0966-7640 References Amuedo-Dorantes, C., and S. 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– Taylor & Francis
Published: Apr 3, 2023
Keywords: Bridewealth; Australian seasonal worker programme; Timor-Leste; impacts of remittances; marriage; living quality