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Contemplate Identity Through Perguruan

Kristo, 19 years old, explained why he joined the Persaudaraan Sinar Hati Terate (PSHT):

I was often bullied and beaten by a group of local boys in Kupang. It was not only once, it happened two or three times with different groups that they attack and extort me. I decided to join PSHT because it has a lot of members and strong connection everywhere. PSHT’s internal forced was famous, it is used by Indonesian Army in war time. I can train my courage, physical endurance, and reject suanggi [black magic] (Kristo, interview on June 27, 2014).

Becoming a member of PSHT, Kristo claimed, can result in a better understanding of Indonesia through the exposure to its culture during learning activities. This is an interesting statement, because it reflects youths’ perception that by joining a perguruan, they find an explanation why to associate themselves with certain national identities. The complex history of perguruans, which emerge from Indonesia’s culture but become part of a tradition in East Timor, is similar to the “complicated” conditions facing East Timorese youths in Naibonat. As he faces constant social and cultural exclusion on the daily basis, Kristo imagines a sense of being “closer” to Indonesia through his involvement, although he realizes that aperguruan is also part of an East Timorese men’s customary activity. In many studies about young people as citizens, their political and social identities are seen as less stable and more varied: “individuals—the substrata of citizens—are bouquets, as they compose their own mixed identities out of various connections and bonds” (van Gunsteren 1998, 22).

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