'Bob Dylan of East Timor' receives masters degree

Award-winning musician and environmentalist Ego Lemos received his masters in International Community Development from Victoria University on 31 May 2011.
Sunday 1 May 2011

Award-winning musician and environmentalist Ego Lemos will receive his Masters Degree in International Community Development from Victoria University on 31 May 2011.

Lemos is known as the 'Bob Dylan of East Timor' for his folk songs about the struggles of his young country, and the environmental and social revitalisation he has helped guide. His thesis, which he started in 2008, explores agriculture and rural livelihoods in his homeland of Timor-Leste.

The study specifically looks at food production policies and practices in a country where 80 per cent of the population make their living from agriculture. This is one of the first theses to use research based on interviews from the country's famers and assess their knowledge and ideas. He hopes it will make a contribution to debate about biodiversity, food crops, nutrition and the economy, not only of Timor-Leste, but also of other small countries in the region.

Lemos is a devotee of permaculture, a method of organic farming that aims to replicate natural ecosystems. While studying agriculture at the University of East Timor (now the National University of Timor Loro Sa'e) in the mid-1990s, he established a local organisation, Permatil, to encourage farmers to return to their traditional ways of raising rice, corn, sweet potatoes, fruit and animals. These practices had largely been abandoned during colonial times and under Indonesian occupation, and replaced with a reliance on fertilisers, pesticides, hybrid seeds, and artificial production schedules.

Lemos is also an increasingly well-known musician who represents his people to the world through evocative, simple folk songs that he writes and sings in his native Tetum language. In 2009, Lemos won APRA's best original song for screen for a hauntingly beautiful song he composed for the title track of the film, Balibo. He crafted the tune in the middle of the night in only a few hours after reading the book on which the film was based.

He was recently signed to Australia's Skinnyfish Music and toured in 2010 with its biggest star, ARIA-winning singer-songwriter Geoffery Gurrumul Yunupingu.

Lemos' co-supervisor is Dr Helen Hill, a VU senior lecturer who specialises in the development of small island-states. In July, Hill, together with other VU staff and students, will be organising a conference in Dili in conjunction with the National University of Timor Loro Sa'e (UNTL) entitled 'Knowledge, Attitudes and Skills for Timor-Leste's Development'.  

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