Uatolari

The approach to Uatolari is through seemingly unfertile, ‘wild’ lands with only palm trees and teak, both having been recently cut and burned. The sensation is of passing through a recently destroyed land, that is only currently inhabited due to the return from the sale of fire wood. Before, the land was cleared to grow corn apparently. But perhaps this year, the drought has been so severe as to leave this cleared land a dry, apocalyptic wasteland. The people living there have only palm thatch shelters, houses seem like too formal a word. They can be seen napping, for these is no work to do. Regardless of the drought, it seems like clearing the tress to grow corn will have dire consequences. The trees keep water in the soil. They prevent erosion and protect the topsoil.

In any case, the first village one arrives at approaching Uatolari is Lagassa. The road makes a serpentine path through. There is a soccer field. Then more wasteland with few rice paddies. Then one arrives finally at Makadiki, the biggest Makassae village along the road. The road twists through, showing a large number of kiosks, a clothes one in particular, a fuel station, and a Catholic high school, leaving Makadidi, crossing a creek, one comes to the first huge rice paddy. It is about a kilometer in length and two or three in the North-South dimension, bounded on the far side by another creek. Past that creek is the neighborhood called Matahoe. It was the Indonesian subdistrict HQ and is home to the appropriate number of buildings. Many are not too destroyed. Perhaps the UN rennovated many.This village is an ethnic mongrel, as all ethnic groups in the district came to live here during the Indonesian period for jobs. While it is commonly thought that the Noheti collaborated and profited heavily from Indonesia’s presence, there were also Makassae who sought influence and privilege from Indonesia.

I’m under the imperssion that all of the ‘important’ Noheti families have houses in Matahoe even though their lands are elsewhere. Also, the majority inhabitants of Matahoe are at least at present Makassae. In otherwords, Noheti people here are surrounded by people who hate them and feel they deserve payback.

Mark, the tough American CIVPOL here, says that he’s seen this first hand. He told a funny anecdote about the house he’s staying in. First, he said, the house is owned by a ‘fence-riding’ Noheti family to collaborated with Indonesia for their own advancement — in fact a participant in the 1959 rebellion.

People stone his house on a nightly basis (even though they know an American lives there) because they want him to leave so they can burn the house down. An even better story is that of an unfortunate dog who the family gave to some belligerant neighbors demanding ‘payback’ for what they believe to be owed to them from Indonesian times. Before Mark knew it, one of the dogs he had helped fatten up was sacrificed by his frightened landlords! He also says that young people — 22 year olds — have demanded payback from Indonesian times, supposed theft or ‘loans’ that they could truly know nothing about. They are babies! But this illustrates the level of harrassment that these big Noheti families are feeling.

The people I need (would like) to interview are all from these Noheti families have all fled the village. Some were in Viqueque for a time but most have gone to Dili more or less permanently. (I wish somebody would have told me this, but it doesn’t seem such common knowledge!) ‘Traditional’ Noheti territory starts on the other side of the Bebui River, which is only 2-3 kilometers away. Some traditional leaders are to be found there, but currently it seems only women and children of these Noheti families remain here in Matahoe.

Matahoe is set on a small hill, the church at the top, with views of the ocean and rice paddies on both sides. The mountains loom behind. It seems Matebian is North, North-east fro here, a looming invisible presence over the town. Rain skips the town rather easily, as this afternoon there was rolling thunder and large anvil shaped clouds streaming overhead. Rolling thunder and cool breezes signalling rain. The only benefit of this show was at dusk when they turned this bruise purple shade, the sky turned this beautiful salmon color and this outrageous orange-pink light illuminated the whole town. At this point I was sitting on the porch with Mark, this very stoic American cop drinking beer on the porch of his now-infamous house. I wanted to ask him to take a picture, but I thought this might shatter the confidence, the ease of our conversation, so I just committed that light to memory. It lasted for maybe 10 minutes, then it quickly went dark. I had to run home, because I feared making it through the town in the dark, with all of these stories of inter-group rock throwing and general intimidation.

I’m glad I stayed at the father’s residence though because I got to meet a number of friendly high school students who work there. They told me about their exams and the prospects of them going to university (which were slim — money). They wanted to talk to me a little but in the end the lure of satellite television proved too great. I tried to explain that I was tired of television, something they would not comprehend. They get Australian, Indonesian, American and Asian TV here. Uggg. I met Father Dani but have yet to meet the elusive Father Tani (formally). He breezed through here barely stopping to shake my hand. He seems to like to maintain forward momentum above all else. Which in a place like this is great because it inspires others to follow the example. Don’t let life pass you by. Which is definitely something that people are brought up to do here. It just seems the escape routes here are few and far between. No money to go to university, then either get married or beat your head against the wall looking for a job. I guess in the end that high school Biologi is good for young mothers (that is, assuming they don’t censor the key parts.)

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