Sometimes in Timor, you run across a person who is exceedingly easy to talk to and clear in their speech — someone who asks you to sit down and from the moment you sit you realize you can just chat. Something in (usually her) eyes, a way of speaking to a foreigner without such a guarded, defensive posture. Today I talked to a woman so easy to chat with that I forgot to ask her name.
The daughter of Jacinto Amarl told me she was 36 and a “ferik” already. An old lady. She had three children, extremely evenly and well spaced, ages 16, 9, and 2. I asked to speak with her father at the Luminar, the restaurant the family owns in Beloi, Viqueque. She said he is in Dili, but come in. I begin to tell her about my project, and she immediately began to help, naming other people in Uatolari who I should talk to. She seemed to have a want-to-help attitude, and because she had a friendly glow in her eye and something about her moon-shaped face and thick, shoulder length hair drew me in. I began to confess my nervousness at going to interview these people, my fear that 1959 and the present are seen as too connected. I believe I used the word ‘sofre’ in connection with her people, the Noheti.
From this point on, she began to tell about relations between Noheti and Makassae in Uatolari. The two groups used to live apart during the Portuguese times. But when Indonesia moved the subdistrict post down to the road, and increased dramatically the number of Timorese in their administration, the two groups came to inhabit more or less the same geographical area around the subdistrict. Now the Noheti stay in the neighborhood called “Matahoe” nearest to the subdistrict post. The Makassae live not far away on the same road, a little more to the West. It seems that all ‘important’ Noheti families, liurais or chefes-de-suco of the whole subdistrict (who are rich enough) have a presence in Matahoe. In other words those who lost buffalo in this theft of a couple of months ago all live quite close to each other. Victim central. Moreover, a lot of these families are connected to the events of 1959.
Jacinto’s daughter told me that currently the Noheti in Matahoe (the Noheti ‘leadership’) live in fear. Their houses are stoned, things are stolen from their property, and of course, carau are stolen from their herd which is held together on nearby land. We can assume that the harrassment, from what Jacinto’s daughter reports, is coming from neighboring Makassae groups — namely the Makadiki. It seems like an intimidation campaign (a highly successful one) by their neighbors. What I find strange is that geographically, it seems as though the Noheti occupy far greater land. I’m not sure of the numbers (need to check census) but why should they feel so intimidated by a people with so much less land? Is the Noheti such a pacific people that they would turn the other cheek and continue to be dominated by a more bellicose neighbor?
In any case, she said that they are afraid to walk alone and at night for fear of being attacked. I boldly asked her about this rumor that the Noheti might just pick up and go to Indonesia en masse. She surprisingly confirmed this saying they will move if the level of ‘terror’ becomes unbearable. From her account, it sounded unbearable at the moment. But she would give no more indication more than that if they old Noheti leaders like her father, Gaspar and others arranged transport and called for the move, that many if not most would follow.
With very little provocation she complained vigorously about the Fretilin district administrator, a scared man from Ossu who never goes out to speak with the people. She recommended that the administrator should mobilize the people to increase agricultural production and give people the tools to do it. She said that agricultural surplus that is unmarketable in Viqueque should be donated to the ex-combatants, (mostly fruits and vegetables).