top of page


east timorese lia-na’in (Keeper of the word). still frame from the documentary film "Sikat Suba" by the director Diogo Pessoa de Andrade.
 "It comes from tradition. 
  It comes from the time 
  of the grandparents." 

Sikat Subar


The title of the film "Sikat Subar" is derived from Tetum, the official language of Timor-Leste. This term can assume different meanings based on its context. Generally, it alludes to a secret or hidden advantage used to clinch a win. Specifically in cockfighting, it's believed to reference a concealed feather, a tactic to deceive the opponent and ensure victory.

"Sikat Subar" delves deep into the rich cultural tradition of cockfighting in Timor-Leste, uncovering its ties to the nation's history, beliefs, and societal norms. The narrative starts with a legend of camaraderie between a boy and a crocodile, highlighting the profound connection the Timorese share with nature and underscoring their belief of descending from crocodiles. The documentary further touches upon the Timorese animist beliefs, underscoring sacred animals like buffaloes and pigs, which epitomize masculinity and femininity.

The rooster, although not deemed sacred, stands as a symbol of bravery, courage, and masculinity. By examining the rooster's symbolism and its ancient roles, from resolving disputes to forecasting the future, the film illuminates cockfighting's enduring significance, a practice depicted in rock paintings over 3000 years old.

The film delves into the traumatic period of the Indonesian occupation from 1975-1999, known as the 'East Timor genocide', and Timor-Leste's consequent quest for independence. In this context, it highlights how roosters and cockfighting emerged as potent symbols during these tumultuous times.

Furthermore, the documentary sheds light on the multifaceted impact of cockfighting in Timor-Leste, spanning the realms of economics, politics, religion, art, and daily life. The narrative offers an in-depth look at the world of cockfighting, spotlighting its influence on societal norms, gender dynamics, and public health considerations.

"Sikat Subar" assembles a rich tapestry of voices, from an anthropologist, a traditional tais weaver, and a visual artist to ex-government officials and a bishop from the Catholic Church. The narrative encompasses stories from resistance fighters, a police chief, and an activist deeply entrenched in human rights advocacy, environmental causes, and the promotion of LGBTI rights and equality.

Additional contributors include a Timorese filmmaker and a member of East Timor's martial-arts community, which played an ambivalent role not only during the Indonesian occupation but also in the aftermath of the independence referendum, and continues to do so today.

The documentary also highlights a US-educated Timorese woman and a veterinarian with expertise in animal health epidemiology. Voices from the grassroots, including cockfighters, bettors, and those dependent on the tradition for their livelihood, along with war veterans and a retired nurse, further enrich the narrative.

Through this myriad of perspectives, "Sikat Subar" meticulously paints a detailed picture of the societal and cultural ramifications of cockfighting, pushing viewers to ponder deep and controversial questions related to tradition, identity, and ethics.

"Sikat Subar" is more than just a documentary. It offers an immersive journey into Timor-Leste's cultural heart, showcasing how age-old traditions continue to mold the nation's identity.

>> Explore the roots

bottom of page