Dancing for peace

On Sunday evening, the anniversary of November 12, the infamous massacre at Santa Cruz of 271 Timorese people that brought the place to the world’s attention, I was at home watching an extremely monotone discussion on TVTL. (Which I have started to call TVDili.)

Except for a heart rending plea for unity and forgiveness, but one of the most well-known survivors of the massacre, it was all quite bland. I was distracted by the cheap set, and the plastic sconces with plastic “flames” dancing on either side of the orators.

I learned about Timor from a one of the three malais who were at Santa Cruz that day, about eleven years ago. She told the Amnesty conference I was attending that she was beaten by Indonesian police with the butt of an American-issue rifle, adding insult to injury.

I remember thinking watching the program how much has changed in a little over 15 years.

Youth don’t seem to have a grain of discipline or healthy fear here, both of which prevented the massacre from being worse.

Professor, it turns out, was across town in Kolmera, watching a fascinating scene unfold. A group of youth, who were not drunk he claims, about 200 of them, had assembled in the Comoro road. They marched towards the camp, and were shouting “dame! dame!” (peace! peace!). People in Jardim were visibly nervous, but the youth came up and started shaking their hands and embracing people. Later I heard they also traded t-shirts with youth from the camp like at the end of a soccer match.

Professor said the group, which he affectionately calls “Gangsters for Peace” then proceeded up to Obrigado camp, where they did the exact same thing.

Then they returned to Jardim and started a gigantic tebe-tebe dance, which is a circular stomping dance that orginated to separate the rice from its chaff. It is rhythmic and kind of hypontic, and quite a joyous group experience.

There were New Zealand peacekeepers standing by perplexed smoking cigarettes. Then at about 11pm, they spontenously dispersed.

Today, buying my return ticket to Bali, I ran into a group like this, assembling outside the Hotel Timor. They were again shouting “dame, dame!” I went to buy some donuts around the corner, and one with red and green face paint (Portugal-inspired?), who was dancing to the forró blasting across the street, shook my hand.

The group is led by a one of Dili’s most widely loved and respected youth leaders/tough guys who has received funding from international donors for reconciliation activities. It’s hard to know what to make of them! Today they are apparently marching around Dili, collecting people who would like to paint their faces, dance and shout for peace, and ending up at the parliament.

I decided to head back in a taxi and get back to work in the tranquility of my house on Malai Road.


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