Tara Bandu for Coastal and Marine Resource Management

Name of case study

Tara Bandu for Coastal and Marine Resource Management


 Biacou, Timor-Leste




Urban/Landscape scale

Area / size

Multiple protected areas within the Village of Biacou, area not specified

NbS employed

 Tara Bandu

Type of NbS

Management/Social/Political NbS


RFLP (Regional Fisheries Livelihoods Programme for South and Southeast Asia), NDFA (National Directorate of Fisheries and Aquaculture), Local authorities (chiefs and ritual leaders), and local community members.


 in the case study Polación et al. (2016) state Tara Bandu “is an informal organization and does not depend on membership. Its operation does not require regular inputs of resources”.



Design group


Figure caption: A map of Biacou (also spelled Beacou) made by residents of the village shows the location of various protected sites. CC BY-ND 4.0 image courtesy of RFLP/Sergio Pedroco via Mongabay.
Climate change benefits
  • Biomass cover loss
  • Loss of food production
  • Loss of other Ecosystem services.
Societal / socio-cultural benefits
  • Biodiversity health and conservation
  • Food security and quality
  • Rights / empowerment / tino rangatiratanga.
Ecological benefits
  • Cultural diversity and history
  • Disturbance prevention
  • Habitat provision
  • Provision of raw materials
  • Social justice and equity
  • Spiritual and religious inspiration.

Summary of case study

The village of Biacou is on the north coast of Timor-Leste. The local people maintain a mixed livelihood, fishing and gleaning in the waters of Tasi Feto (Tetum meaning ‘woman sea’ is the body of water also known as the ‘Ombai-Wetar Straight’), alongside salt production and farming (Población et al., 2016).

Since the country’s independence in 2002, there has been a resurgence of customary practices, through a hybrid of Indigenous beliefs and moral codes with modern concepts in Timor-Leste (Casquilho & Martins, 2022). Tara bandu and related customary practices play a key part in the reconciliation following the withdrawal of the Indonesian regime that previously occupied the nation and made up a contribution to the country’s justice capacity (Población et al., 2016).

This revitalised customary practice is a means for Indigenous groups in Timor-Leste, collectively known as Maubere to collectively assert land, coastal and marine rights. As a customary resource management practice, it was not instituted by the state or foreign agencies, although the Timorese Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries collaborated with community leaders in Biacou to establish governance. For Maubere people the sea, like the land is subject to a number of practices relating to customary tenure and resource rights, entwined with spiritual and ancestral narratives.

In May 2012 ritual and political authorities and members of the community begin proceedings to meet to witness the signing document of agreements after more than a year of social dialogue to establish the norms, penalties, and regulations under the new tara bandu for Biacou (Bhattacharya, 2018c). The tara bandu of Biacou establishes, although is not limited to, measures of resource conservation, management, and enforcement, and was set up by the community members in 2012. Unlike most tara bandu, this one extends its reach to marine and coastal resources. 

As in other parts of Te Moananui Oceania, communities in Timor-Leste follow a system of ‘precedence’ (preferential access, governance, and tenure) related to genealogy, lineage and origin stories linking specific groups to the landscape (Población et al., 2016). The constitution of The Democratic Republic Timor-Leste currently encourages the recognition and valuing of customary law and governance. Solutions to local conflict are encouraged to be resolved through customary justice practices, and community consultation. Tara bandu however is not binding by state. Pedro Rodrigues (Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries) collaborated with Biacou’s community leaders in the establishment of the tara bandu and describes it as a customary natural resource management system that “governs the relationships among humans and between human and non-human entities — seas, forests, spaces, objects, animals, crops, the state” (Bhattacharya, 2018a).

The tara bandu specifically protects (Población et al., 2016):

  • Lulik places including ritual spaces and places inhabited by spirits.
  • Forestry resources including tamarind trees, sandal forest, the cajeput tree and its fruit, and the forest generally.
  • Coastal and marine resources including coral reefs, turtles, and salt production areas, and prohibits destructive fishing practices.

In an article from Mongabay, a local fisherman describes the depletion of the fish stock in the area during Indonesian occupation (Bhattacharya, 2018b). Now, under tara bandu there are hopes that the fisheries will recover, “Biacou has a long, sustainable fishing tradition and it will surely continue. We know how the ecosystem works. Like we know when a particular species breeds and therefore we refrain from harvesting them; we know when the proper time to fish is; we know the sacred spots where we should never fish” (Bhattacharya, 2018b). Protecting the marine environment is a national priority for Timor-Leste, as the national economy transitions away from fossil fuel extraction and there is increasing precedence for tourism income (Población et al., 2016). Most people in Biacou rely on local resources, for food, fuel, and income. The main activities are fishing, including reef gleaning and salt production, alongside some farming. Many fisher people catch for subsistence and sale at the local market. The effect of the tara bandu is an increase in household expenditure, and an increased difficulty to carry out their occupation. However, people have also stopped extractive practices, such as the harvesting of coral for lime production, and have moved toward sustainable ones in other areas, such as renewable firewood production for salt processing. Locals report the regeneration of local coastal ecosystems (Bhattacharya, 2018a).

Bhattacharya (2018a) describes a case in October 2012 of an old tamarind tree protected under the tara bandu, which was accidentally destroyed by a cooking fire started by fishermen. A few days later a $60 fine (close to the average monthly wage) was publicly delivered to them by village leaders at the local churchyard, which the men swiftly paid. They upheld the tara bandu and its associated penalty, because not remedying their mistake would be a great disrespect to the community and the spirit realm, with potential spiritual ramifications.

Read More
Figure caption: Village leaders gathering at the community hall after the inauguration ceremony of Biacou’s tara bandu CC BY-ND 4.0 image courtesy of Sergio Pedroco via Mongabay.
  • Bhattacharya, B. K. (2018a, October 26). Timor-Leste: Maubere tribes revive customary law to protect the ocean. Mongabay. https://news.mongabay.com/2018/10/timor-leste-maubere-tribes-revive-customary-law-to-protect-the-ocean/
  • Bhattacharya, B. K. (2018b, October 31). Timor-Leste: Q&A with a Maubere fisherman on reviving depleted fisheries. Mongabay. https://news.mongabay.com/2018/10/timor-leste-qa-with-a-maubere-fisherman-on-reviving-depleted-fisheries/
  • Bhattacharya, B. K. (2018c, November 8). Timor-Leste: With sacrifice and ceremony, tribe sets eco rules. Mongabay. https://news.mongabay.com/2018/11/timor-leste-with-sacrifice-and-ceremony-tribe-sets-eco-rules/
  • Casquilho, J., & Martins, X. (2022). Tara bandu: On the hybridization of a sign. Diálogos, 7, 239–269. https://doi.org/10.53930/27892182.dialogos.7.35Población, E. A., Rodrigues, P., & Ulric, R. L. (2016). Tara bandu as a coastal and marine resource management mechanism: A case study of Biacou, Timor-Leste. In Strengthening organizations and collective action in fisheries: Towards the formulation of a capacity development programme (pp. 301–340). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/310425861_Tara_Bandu_as_a_coastal_and_marine_resource_management_mechanism_A_case_study_of_Biacou_Timor-Leste

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