Last night I made a major breakthrough in my research, quite serendipitously. After having tried to help correct my Patron’s French-English translation of 1904 border treaty between the Portuguese and the Dutch, I asked him if he possessed an Indonesian ethnography I was looking for in order to understand more about Timorese dance and performance. This was actually for my day job.
He produced it, we skimmed the table of contents, and we decided there was very little substance on ritual and dance. By the same author was another book about the “independence” movements in Nusatengara Timur, (NTT), this end of the Indonesian archipelago. We eagerly skimmed that table of contents for interesting material for our Timor Reader, a book that will provide excerpts of key historical documents and analysis for the starving Timorese secondary and tertiary student.
This reminded me to ask Patron about a document he had referred to earlier, a history of the Indonesian military he had come across in Bali. This document had a section on Kupang (West Timor) which mentioned the anti-Sukarno eastern Indonesian armed forces movement called PERMESTA.
For months I have been trying to find information to confirm this link between PERMESTA and the other side of the island. Why? Because the “political asylum seekers,” 14 individuals rumored to be involved in the PERMESTA movement, arriving in East Timor in 1957 were to become the instigators of the 1959 rebellion in Viqueque, the focus of my study.
Several sources claimed them to be PERMESTA militants. But no primary source document, just a bunch of rumor by Australian and Portuguese sources who had no proof.
I had traveled across the island in January in search of surviving members of this now-legendary group of 14. They are widely remembered in the Baucau and Viqueque districts of East Timor. After much searching, and the help of great people at the CRS office in Kupang as well as local journalists and a friendly ex-East Timor University professor, I was able to find the only known surviving member of this group.
He was living in a small hut an hour’s rough drive from Kupang. A real character. He was perhaps the only person in West Timor who had lived in Portugal (in the infamous Caxias prison) and Angola, in a prison near Biê. He remembered Tetum, in fact I was able to phrase most of my questions in Tetum, and he responded in Indonesian. But this Jeremis Pello Toan was a tough interview. Perhaps because I committed the grievous error of “dropping” the proverbial “bomb” too quickly. I came on too strong: I just HAD to know whether Pello Toan was connected to PERMESTA. WHY did they come to East Timor?
In the end, all I got was “maaf, Ibu. Maaf.” Sorry, Senhora, sorry. I cannot say. He shared enough information about the fourteen to ascertain that they were a group of politically aware youth, one military and one police.
I left having strong suspicions that they were connected to PERMESTA, for Pello Toan would have had reason to protect his “hero” status conferred to him by Suharto in Jakarta during the 1990s. Then he was declared a “hero” of integration, of the Indonesian territorial unity. When in truth, he was involved in a movement that was strongly AGAINST Javanese imperialism and the centralization of the Indonesian state.
I will have to beg somebody to translate this chapter on PERMESTA in Kupang. But it appears they were actually quite active, having occupied military and government buildings and taken civil servants and militarymen hostage with the intent of ‘deporting’ them to Jakarta. Interestingly, this, in the end was the concept behind the 1959 rebellion, to forcefully expel (not necessarily kill) the abusive European occupiers. Now I have to contact the author of this mysterious book from Bali and try to find his military source documents.