Majesty yet no mercy

The Portuguese had a sense of majesty. Maybe it came from being under a monarch for so long. There area couple of rules for the Portuguese to operate under. First favor higher locations. Look for hills, mountains, little nooks under mountains — even a large rock to construct on. Failing high, look for water. Any kind but the best is a beach (who cares about drinking water?) Failing beautiful water, bring water! Make fountains, gardens with fountains, ponds, pools, etc.

Important as a second rule, is make everything square, straight, geometric. Wide streets. Plant trees to shade and delineate the streets. No matter how few, how distant, how obscure the place. Everything can be urban with a little imagination. In Aflocai UC, the perfect example of a couple of the above points. First, as for majesty. The old adminsitrive post is constructed on a high hill with 360 degree panoramic views. Matebian is right through the bedroom window of the administrator. The mountains of the souls, framed by 90 degree angles of the Portuguese window. On the other side is the sweep of the ocean. In between over 90 degrees of rolling hills, views toward the plain of Los Palos, Baguia in plain view on the Matebian side. So the majestic part is taken care of, as is the high part.

If it can be said to have streets, this town has two principal streets surrounding (making right angles) at the fort / administration. Being over a quarter century since the portuguese did anything here but steam away leaving arms to the Timorese to kill each other with, it’s hard to tell what this posto looked like in Portuguese times. Between war and dire poverty, things get destroyed quickly. But looking down the hill from the fort one notices these two streets for the line of tall coconut palms planted down the side of each. The street going straight towards the big rock mountain to the southwest is strangely ‘paved’ with large stones. It has the feel of an old Roman road or something. It soon peeters out into a rocky dirt track. But one has the distinct feeling of starting off, down it that one is going somewhere. And this is a rare sensation in Timor. The other proper road is lined with palms, covered in a grass fuzz and points east – southeast.

There are no ‘buildings’ here, save the administration, one with the title “Posto Escolar,” a ruined building in front of the administration/castle, the market and a church (clearly from Indonesian times) and the house I’m staying in. I’m not sure what this house was for. All of the residences are of palm walls, and there is little to no corrugated metal roofind. Oh and there does appear to some old Indonesian heath post, and of course a primary school. It sounds like more than it is. Really.

The Posto of Uatocarbau, Afaloicai, seems now like the end of the earth with a touch of misplaced colonial drauma. The end of the earth is the key phrase. There is no transport there except on foot, and there is a road which is passable even during the beginning of  the rainy season. There are no kiosks there. Nothing for sale. All the chickens died of a plague and the greens aren’t growing yet without the rain. So the diet is rice, bananas, corn and the canned food you were able to keep from your last trip down to the coast. This description probably fits a lot of mountain villages in Timor. But they are off the main road.

Afaloicai was abandonned on purpose. The Indonesians knew between than the Portuguese. Mountains + discontent = resistance. They moved everything down to the coast. Afaloicai will remain abandoned until they have something so valuable to market. Teak and Sandalwood are possibiltiies. But this takes vision and time.

It’s clear that in 1959, the people of Afaloicai and Uatocarbau jumped at the opportunity to attack Portuguese sovereignty over them. A mere demonstration of magic on the beach by a couple of Indonesians wearing uniforms was enough to convince hundreds of people (mostly their leaders) to go on a suicidal seige of the next Portuguese posto, Baguia.

At the time apparently the Administrator de Posto was in Dili. Whether or not he caught wind of what was about to happened and fled it unknown. But I think it is fair to say that even before June 1959, even with all of the Portuguese buildings, the ‘fort,’ Afaloicai was already abandoned. And the people knew it. A man from the second line ‘Timorese’ military, gave his rifle to the sipaios, the Timorese police, and ran to the jungle to wait out the ‘war.’ The sipaios must have been caught in quite a dilemma. But clearly four men in shorts with batons could not stop an army. So they sat back and watched as the men set off for Baguia, and as one Indonesian ‘lieutenant’ climbed a telephone pole and cut the wire. More symbolic than anything else.

In the popular memory in Uatocarbau, this aventurism/uprising is known as a “war” perhaps for lack of a better word. But the more I hear about it, the seige of hundreds of people from the neighboring district, met by machine guns and hiding troops from Baguia and Lautem, it does sound like a war. Perhaps this ‘uprising’ was greater than I had imagined. It is amazing to me also how people remember the numbers. HOW MANY PEOPLE? I ask again and again. Many! Then people start naming the dead, which can be misleading as if to mean that one could remember all of the names of the dead, indicating a small number. But as in anything, any time period of battle, only the ‘big people’ are remembered. Its funny here that the ‘big people’ are often only remembered by their first names, as if they literally just didn’t have a family name. Our bias is to say, oh, if they don’t remember family names then those guys must be nobodies. But that’s just not true. Even within a village today, the liurais will be known by one name only. People would be hard-pressed to remember family names.

So the scene in Baguia is set: hundreds of invaders from Uatocarbau, led by a handful of Indonesians with army fatigues and even officer ranks on their shirts. Most men with spears, only a couple with rifles.

They approach the fort where the second line troops from Afaloicai-Baguia and Baguia are waiting hidden with the Portuguese troops and commanders freshly arrived from Baucau. The Portuguese cars are hidden with banana leaves. Unfortunately for the rebels, they do not notice the three machine guns posted on the three south-southwest facing corners of the fort. As soon as they get close enough, the Portuguese forces open fire. WE can assume that the first die? Panic ensues. People realize they will die if they advance. Many do die. The rebels retreat to Uatocarbau, where they decide to split into two groups, one taking their chances looking for mercy in Uatolari. The other staying waiting for the imminent arrival of Administrator Frazão from Lautem.

This story about people being apprehended on the beach waiting for an Indonesian boat has yet to surface in Uatocarbau. Perhaps this only happened spontaneously, or in Uatolari only.

Also interesting is the question of internal exile. I know some people I have talked to claim that their relatives were exiled to other subdistricts, even other districts. The penal system, if it could be called a system, seemed rather chaotic at best. Some people (like Pasqual Pinto) were held prisoner in their home subdistrict. Others were taken to Viqueque like João Batista, the only surviving sipaio from Uatocarbau. But according to some people in Afaloicai Uatocarbau, some people were taken prisoner by the invading forces from Lautem. Could it be that the Portuguese officially or unofficially condoned the old practice of taking prisoner or slave? The Portuguese did little to curb the practice (perhaps reinforced by the recent Japanese presence) of ‘head hunting’ for it seems that at least one case of execution by beheading took place in a village near Baguia. Most witnesses I talk to make it sound like the Timorese forces raised to attack the rebels were not formally ‘commanded’ to do much but scare the shit out of the rebels and the civilians who played host to them. They were allowed to burn and pillage everything in the absence of actual conflict, armed combat. The Portuguese came in to the subdistrict posts from opposite directions and meted out swift and unflinching ‘justice’ killing anyone in any position of power in their military or administration who did not actively resist the revels. Those whose lives were spared were theose who ran into the jungle, missing this first wave.

If there is any reason to the Portuguese system of punishment, it seems that the bigger the perceived fish, the further to send them away. Those who were personally known to the administrators, and those who worked as sipaios or military who were seen to have collaborated in the rebellion were likely to be executed on the spot. Interestingly, none of the known ringleaders of the rebellion in Viqueque were executed. They were beaten severely upon giving themselves up, and one died in custody but this seems to have been a mistake. Perhaps the order from Dili was to bring them in alive for interrogation? But it seems that the authorities were already convinced of an Indonesian plot by that time. More likely the authorities felt they needed living proof of the rebellion to send to Lisbon. They sensed that Lisbon already rather mistrusted them and would be curious about what actually happened in Timor. The authorities might not accept written confessions of dead men sent by the governor and administrator of the concelho of Dili, who appear to have been suspect characters.


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