The past two nights I have woken up at 4am. And had that feeling, oh, I’m really not going to get back to sleep soon. For those who have taken a class with me, rented a movie with me, or ridden in a car or bus with me, it would be hard to imagine me as an insomniac! It’s actually laughable. Because I have been so prisoner to eight hours of nightly slumber for so long, part of me thinks it’s a blessing to be awake now because 4am is one of the most peaceful hours of the day. A good time to think and listen to Ben Gibbard’s voice, which has been making me sadly happy since I first left home in 1997.
I’m starting to get used to the strange feeling of being paradoxically quite alone but surrounded by people interested in me and watching me. I perhaps make the naïve American mistake of trying to be friendly with the Timorese staff at the house, when in the end, they are more comfortable in a hierarchy. Yesterday, the cleaning lady, who had previously been sprightly and friendly, was brooding, bringing her bad mood to me in the morning. The strange passive-aggressiveness around here. I tried to calculate if I could have possibly insulted her since the last time I saw her. No. So I offered a donut peace offering, which was of course, not refused.
In any case, more than ever, I just feel comfortable in my own skin here and now. I don’t get lost in Dili. I have a history here. Perhaps this comfort comes from not having to figure everything out, from having struggled through the hard stuff.
I spent the morning hours flipping through some of the canonical Portuguese colonial historians and anthropologists. Particularly two guys named Luna de Oliveira and Antonio de Almeida. The former was an army guy who did not spend much time here, but dedicated the latter half of his life to a detailed chronology of conflict and alliance in Portuguese Timor. (It is an interesting read, probably the most detailed of any source, recently republished by Fundação Oriente.)
Then Antonio de Almeida, a colonial “anthropologist” who published on archaeology, oral history, linguistics, social structure, material culture and art. The volume “A Expressão Portuguesa no Oriente” was also published by FO. It’s a real crap shoot. But today I located quite valuable pages: the etymology of one kingdom Afaloicai, and two accounts of the origin stories told by Naueti language speakers.
Professor had suggested, and rightly so, that I needed to understand the historical processes in the East of Timor that led to the late twentieth century landscape. It turns out the “kingdoms” which are my focus were never of much importance to the Portuguese, and while they are close neighbors, sharing both languages, they both consciously define themselves as having distinct origins. (This is confirmed by Almeida.)
Arriving in his rusting Landcruiser, Professor suggested we finally get to work systematically on a listing of the “kingdoms” recognized by Portuguese sources, starting from as early as 1703. It’s actually quite amazing that nobody had done this before us – there are a great many lists of this type, from a variety of sources. Our labor would be to produce a gigantic matrix of names of kingdoms by date, and by ruler. Easier said than done!
The Portuguese often had very little idea about their vassals and rebel kingdoms, and our growing matrix begs meditation on the early influence of Dominican missionaries in the creation of alliance between North and South. But what this exercise reveals more than anything is that the current “political” boundaries and balances of power, especially in the Eastern part of “Portuguese Timor” are extremely recent. Only starting 150 years ago do we really begin to see incorporation/subjugation of kingdoms around Mount Matebian.
I am really lucky to have Professor to work with here. He is tireless and extremely motivating. He studied under one of the most well known Southeast Asia scholars, who is read by most college undergrads, who was known for his capacity to collect and make sense of masses of information. Professor says, wisely, that I should not frantically dedicate myself to “fieldwork” here without writing a basic structure first. I need to know what it is I am looking for.
Unfortunately for my thesis (but fortunately for my health) I do not have time to hangout and let ethnographic detail dribble out of my informants.
There are birds chirping outside my window. I have matan dukur, sleepy eyes.