Last night I was standing in the middle of my street in the dark. The street is barricaded to the north of my house, to ‘protect’ the Chinese and Brazilian embassies behind us. So I can effectively dance on the street, or even sleep in the middle because people only reach our end to make u-turns. But I have a great view all the up the street looking south. In the mornings, the now green mountains appear misty and wet.
In the dark last night all I could see was this bright light at the end of the block illuminating the whole street. No light in the foreground. A woman barefoot in a white dress walked into the light, walking slowly towards me. She must have been 300 meters away but she appeared to float there for a while like a spirit.
I asked my friend and Colleague at work about Timorese beliefs of spirits and ghosts. People are definitely scared of places of extreme violence or unnatural death, and people’s souls are believed to return. The people of Liquiça, the site of the April 1999 church massacre, are apparently frightened to walk by at night. A mate klamar is the closest to a ghost, a dead spirit. It is a life force that persists, that exists to people here. These ghosts can suffer and bring bad luck to people, especially if they committed wrongs in their life. But ghosts can also bring luck, showing their gratitude. Animism is based on this, the continued life of the ancestors. In fact Timorese tradition is to bury family around the house.
The importance of death and what we I would suppose call “afterlife” was an important entry point for the Catholic Church. Mourning, in the heavy Iberian tradition of wearing black from head to toe, continues here for 12 months for one’s parents. It must have taken a while for missionaries to convince their parishes to begin burying the dead in cemeteries, but now cemeteries can be found in the most remote mountain areas, even those with infrequent visits by priests.
But the floating woman in white dress was clearly alive. In fact I walk or bike by this strange house nearly every day. There are many young, physically tiny babies there. The women sit with vacant looks on their faces in front of their obviously squatted house, with plywood coverings on the windows, and a Bob Marley sarong hanging in front. It seems hard to believe there is any income in the family, as I the one man I have seen there was wandering aimlessly and smoking. Just as remote a look in his eyes, but no baby to nurse.