Memorial

Between the market and the church there is a crossroads upgraded to the status of roundabout by virtue of the placement of a monument to King Dom Jeremias of Luca. All of the Portuguese honors for the poor liurai who sided too obviously with his European colonial masters, executed in public by the Japanese. Today few people know or care who Dom Jeremias is and in a pop quiz of the hundreds of people on foot, bicycle, and motorcycle who pass by the concrete, pale yellow construction, I can only imagine that 5% would know who he is. A good 10% would give me a strange look for even having noticed the monument and whatmore making such a big deal of it. Many truck and car drivers, careening up the road from the market, taking a right towards the church, flaunting the rules of the road by hanging a sharp right (which would be into oncoming clockwise roundabout traffic if more than one care passed every half hour). Clearly the monument has melted into a landscape littered by public art, buildings left by colonizers, in spite of its new coat of paint.

Less central but more offensive is a monument to the governor who oversaw the ‘reconstruction’ of Timor immediately after WWII, responsible for the internment and slow murder of over 1,000 traditional leaders accused of collaborating with the Japanese. Governor Oscar Ruas (Lieutenant) was a military man, who did little to promote the rapid reconstruction of the colony, indefinitely delaying the reconstruction of Dili due to arguments over possible new locations for the city. The liurais sent to the prison island of Atauro , with no due process at all, were killed off by the sadist administrator de posto Azevedo, who put glass (crushed) into the only food given to the prisoners which was cornmeal.

This was simply the way of a fascist government says our landlord. Fair enough, but why send a battalion of Portuguese soldiers of today to repaint and weed a monument to fascism? Clearly this question never even percolated to the surface of the minds of those who weeded, painted, and polished. Perhaps it was even the Thai battalion, oriented by living in a place where history is sacred, where trifling civilian governments and military governments alike dare not touch the royal family. Perhaps for them cleaning up the Oscar Ruas monument was like leaving a boiled egg for the Emerald Buddha.

In any case, the people of Viqueque now have a counterbalance to the rigid, angular bronze eagle overlooking the town from below the district administrator’s residence. They now have the curved light yellow monument to the ultimate fascist government, who helped inspire the uprising of 1959 in no small way.

Like most Portuguese towns the streets in Viqueque are wide, with plenty of passing room and room for the odd buffalo or Balinese cow to fit. Mostly the streets are trod on by animal feet: chickens, dogs, pigs, goats, horses and the cows and buffaloes. But there are more fences and pens for animals here than in other places.

There is a signficant amount of shade on the streets, due to the plantings of pine trees, mango trees,  coconut palms, flame trees, banyans, and eucalyptus. There Portuguese idea of creating a town did not stop at streets and houses with stone foundations. Green was a part of the equation. During the dry season, however, a walk down the street will give you the impression of dry, dirt, crinkly grass and shrubs. There is green above, but below is mostly yellow, light brown and a pale sickly green. As in other places in Timor, the notion of cleaning or yardwork is to throw a match on a patch of grass.

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