My last election post

[April 15 update: I’ve added poster images, for those who cannot conjure the real people]

These have been on my mind for a while now. Some of them were suggested to me by folks in Dili. Watch me get banned for life for this one… (Although I guess my “The Shaft” comparison is favorable.)

Avelino Coelho ::::: Papa Smurf (this link is also relevant!)


João Carrascalão ::::: Toad of Toad Hall


Lasama ::::: The Grinch


Lu Olo ::::: The Shaft


Manuel Tilman ::::: Chicken Little


Ramos Horta ::::: [Monty Python’s] The Bishop (video)


Xavier ::::: Yoda


Lucia Lobato ::::: in making this list I realize how many of our pop culture references are male. Sigh. Suggestions?


And then the most pressing question of all, which of these “characters” would make the best Head of State?


Cuba: Para, por amor?

I have always loved the song “Cuba Va,” as interpreted by Sílvio Rodriguez. At the risk of insulting, I will make the common comparison: Sílvio is the Latin Bob Dylan. This lyric is particularly relevant:

Del amor estamos hablando 
Por amor estamos haciendo
Por amor se está hasta matando 
Para, por amor seguir trabajando.

It’s of love we are speaking 
It’s for love that we are doing
It’s for love that people are even killing
For and with love keep working.

Sílvio is a complicated figure, the “killing” line steers us right to the heart of the matter. He supported the “struggle” from the beginning. His work is a tribute to the revolutionary Cuba. In recent years, when he could have solidified a more historically “consensual” position, he persisted in defending Fidel, his imprisonment of outspoken people. He is also a member of Cuban parliament.

When can we except art and intervention for its face-value? That it is made “for and with love”? It is difficult to avoid all that is written between the lines of this “work.” And yet…

I walked past the Cuban embassy in Dili during my last stay. They had opened up shop in Timor later than many countries.

In 2005, the Timorese Ministry of Health accepted the offer of 300 Cuban doctors. The first wave arrived in the subdistricts in early 2006. (About the same number of Timorese students were given scholarships to study medicine in Cuba.) On face value, this offer was a blessing for a country that could only count on a couple of dozen doctors of its own.

Flagrant "communist" spelling error?

Yet, as things have worked out, the Cuban presence has caused mistrust and controversy in many subdistricts.  Across the country in late 2006, from the West to the East (which still supports the Fretilin government to a greater degree) I heard people telling me they distrusted the Cubans. Vicious rumors had spread that they killed babies. From Lautem to Manufahi, without prompting people told me they isolated themselves more than other malais. They show only disdain for us was a common refrain. Many people confessed that they were much less likely to seek help at the health postos now that there were Cubans there. Curiously, one Doctor “defected” in early 2006.

There is clearly a link between the anti-communist rhetoric of anti-government groups and this mistrust of the Cubans. Perhaps disgruntled Timorese nurses and doctors who felt unfairly subordinated to these doctors had a role in their demonizing.

In Avante! the Portuguese Communist party magazine, it was reported that Cuba will be collaborating with the Timorese government in a literacy campaign which uses mass media, along the lines of “Yo Sí Puedo.” The Cuban government claims that this program had great long-term results in Angola and Cape Verde. The Cubans had a much longer history of intervention in these countries.

It would be ideal if Timor could act as a “non-aligned” country, picking and choosing assistance based on need alone. I believe this is the vision of Fretilin. But a large part of the population seems caught up in antiquated Cold War rhetoric, which I believe has been consistently encouraged by certain priests and opportunist politicians. The confrontation between the Church and the government in 2004 only further aggravated the situation.

The question is, at this juncture, how and if the Cuban presence can be depoliticized in Timor, and if this new literacy program can be accepted on its face-value.


Kabulaki taruló [tarutu]
Fera rai Díli
Rai Díli sala sa
Fera rai Díli

Portuguese poet Alberto Osório de Castro transcribed verses he overheard in Dili during a stay in Timor from 1909-10. He implies they were a response to the sound of thunder. He translated the meaning as “Os trovões de Kabulaki deitam abaixo Díli. Que cuplas tem Díli para ir a terra?”

He translates the “sa” as a question form. Luis Costa (1999) points out that sa can be an emphatic particle used in company of friends and family. And the lack of conjugation in Tetum does not help. Perhaps the second fera rai is in fact the imperative?

In English, one interpretation could be “Kablaki’s thunder lays Dili to waste. Dili is guilty, lay it to waste.”

These words at the time seemed prophetic, as Osório de Castro observed in his A Ilha Verde e Vermelha de Timor, it was not even a year after he left that Boaventura challenged Portuguese authority on the island.

Here Kablaki, the home of spirits, dominates Dili. This can be read as a Timorese fantasy version of colonialism, that somehow control of Timor was never cededed to the Portuguese. The equilibrium between fragile, exterior political power and the eternal power of the mountains is key to the “Timorese” world view.

Population density, c/o Timorese govt Atlas. The western mountain areas easily out-number Dili

The question of the local versus the center, the generalized feeling of imbalance in Timor between them, will be decisive in the elections. (Observers, don’t dally in Dili!)

Perhaps the political emphasis of guerrilla credibility (Mau Huno, L7, Lu Olo) is less about the struggle and more about the “local.” Who in government can pretend to represent Kablaki?

Some, malais and Dili elite alike, would scoff at the supersticious and “feudal” backwardness of the mountains.

Elizabeth Traube’s fascinating new paper points to this tension between national identity and a need for local-national equilibrium. The vast majority of Timorese, who live in isolated rural communities believe the “wages of the nation” must be paid to the mountains, and the people and spirits who reside there. The issue of unresolved deaths and the need to “pay” for these deaths looms large. Then, some deaths were paid for and the dead are still alive.

I can only hope that the Presidential candidates are not distracted by Alfredo, and that the realize the real power of Kablaki. The alternative? Thunder. Fera rai Díli. 

The war machine

Xanana. Lu Olo. (Alfredo.) Warrior-hero nomads.

Last year after reading A Dignidade, José Mattoso’s book about Konis Santana, I returned to a dizzying work of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and psychoanalyist Felix Guattari.

My first encounter with Nomadology: The War Machine was in a class about bedouin literature. I’m not sure I had any idea what these guys were getting at.

Deleuze and Guattari, in a compact, sensorily challenging work attempt to provoke the reader to consider how a military and government can co-exist. It may seem like a crazy question. In few places in the world does one exist entirely without the other.

But militaries often developed outside of the state (i.e. medieval knights). D&G’s preoccupation is how the state apparatus can absorb a “nomadic” military order, often with its roots entirely outside of permanent, codified state structures. They argue the war machine can be somewhat co-opted by the State, but will always maintain its “externality.”

President Xanana Gusmão, himself an ex-nomad warrior, was described recently by Lusa wire service as failing to use both his powers as President and his charisma as ex-leader of the resistance. He was quoted as saying,

Part of our society lost its morals, suddenly. It’s an anarchy of mentality. It is not a question of generations.

The people must reject violence once and for all… They no longer fear law and order.

Only a few weeks prior, Xanana mocked Alfredo, asking the Timorese people who was the real war hero, or asua’in.

Beyond Xanana’s admitted confusion over his role, the fight over party symbols on the Presidential ballot has everything to do with this persistent equivalence between the war machine and the ruling party and the State.

It is no coincidence that Lu Olo conducted his first campaign events in his home Ossu, near where he spent the early years of the military resistance to Indonesia. Then he went to Lospalos, the home of a number of FALINTIL heroes, and most recently to Laclubar where he was based for nearly ten years.

The campaign photo is quite rare, as Lu Olo is usually pictured in his Falintil days with pen and not the gun. He was, of course, a secretary and commissar.

Campaigning in Baucau in 2001, ABC quotes Lu Olo

Even to see a [military] uniform makes me sick. Seeing a rifle makes me want to throw it away. I’m tired of fighting. Fretilin wants peace and stability … to build love, to move forward.

Much of the colonial literature seems to indicate that at least in the nineteenth century asua’in, or warrior-heroes, were in many ways like medieval knights. They were convened at war times, and given special privileges and statute within society, but were not considered to possess political power per se.

One of my more interesting informants recently told me that his great-great-great-great grandfather was a hero who was given the liurai‘s daughter’s hand in marriage for his exploits. It was through marriage alliance that a warrior-hero could come to exercise political power. Marriage was a way of turning the nomad into the State, but never the reverse.

Many remarked on the significance of Lu Olo’s wedding in 2002 to a young woman from Atauro (shortly after Taur Matan Ruak, ex-guerrilla, head of the Armed Forces, married Isabel Ferreira Guterres). Even after his marriage, his declarations in 2001, and years of experience in Parliament, why is it that Lu Olo must be portrayed as the warrior?

What happens when the State sees itself as a sedentary extension of the war machine? The State then becomes exterior to its own existence? Or more frighteningly, in this situation, is there a State at all?


Vossos amimos não vos esquecem

Timorese: Here is a photo of your good Australian friends that was taken when they helped you combat the cruel Japanese. […]

In this year of 1944, the Japanese have been defeated in all of the battles — whether on land, in the air or at sea.

Why is this happening? — Because America, England, and Australia have more arms, ships and planes. When Japan launched this war it could triumph in the first battles because we weren’t ready for it. But, now, we are strong.

Timorese, have patience. All of New Guinea was taken back from the Japanese. Your turn will come.

Paint against the machine

  open book_liquica 

This photo is by “maleye” or “post.” a photographer who has accumulated an impressive collection of images from around East Timor. This one is part of the “graffiti” collection, which “maleye” says will be featured in a forthcoming publication… Waiting for details. Please take a moment to browse the photos. Many are related to the gang violence, youth rage and regional divisions which boiled over in 2006.

Strutting his stuff

Alfredo appears to be playing tricks with his appearance. In Maubisse, a year ago, he was sporting the Marine look, the “high and tight” cut. Then the third-world insurgent-hero goatee. Recently a Fretilin blogger accused him of immitating a Moluccan nationalist with an old-fashioned mustache. The Australian reporters who met him after two days walk in the middle of the night revealed today he is back to the goatee. He seems to put a lot into appearances. I guess he knows they are quite important. In Timor, speed and strength cannot always win the fight.

Quoting from orgs. Cristiano da Costa, Aureo da Costa Guterres, Justino Lopes (2006) Exploring Makassae Culture. Instituto Católico para Formação de Professores Baucau, Baucau:

Cock fighting is a gambling event of the ‘real world’ but the process for thegame to take place is associated with the ‘world of the imagination.’ It always involves supersticious practices and belief in the cock feathers, not the skill and the strength of the cocks. The gamblers at the cock-fighting events believe that the asa-namu ‘the feathers’ give strength to the cock to determine the fate of the game.

There are number of feathers commonly known such as buree, dala, bakasa, kalabu imiri, butiri. Accordingly each of the main feathers is sub-divided again in more than 20 of sub-feathers such as: Tafui, Teki, Teki miat, Teki luru mia, Teki fa’uk, Fa’u, Fa’u kaidawa, Temo, Dala Lairisa, Dala Filas, Sabu, Seri, Seri gaba (seri yellow), seri metan (seri black), Meluk, Sabu meluk, Sabu lurumia, and so on.

Before the ‘meeting of the minds’ between the two parties to fight their cocks, skilled cock-fighters will examine the colours of the feathers, the eyes, claw, beaks and as well as the length of time for the fight must be right for both side, before betting starts. If the two contending parties agree on all of these things, then the cock-gamblers on both sides begin to place tara which is a sharp blade, like small knife known as tara, in one foot of each of the two cocks. After the blades are attached the watchers and bettors must leave the circular fighting-ground and only two people, acting as ‘referees’ and managers of the fight, are allowed inside. Many people attend these fights that are held regularly in towns and villages throughout the Makassae region.

The different types of cock feathers and the skilled cock-fighting gamblers who read, understand and foresee the cocks’ fate are at the core of the cock fighting tradition. Those that read feathers are able to distinguish and name the different cocks may also be able to correctly match a cock against its opponent and name the best time for the fight. For example tafui is the kind of cock with red feathers, and feet and beak that are are black or white, similar to wild cocks. This type of cock can only be matched against its opponent between five o’clock or between 4-4:30 in the afternoon. This is supposedly the best time because this would be the time when wild cocks are searching for food in the forest, as well as courting the hens… Below is a descriptive list of some cocks with their respective opponents and the time that one particular type could best defeat its opponent.

Buree There are various types of Buree but the ‘buree imiri’ (red buree) can fight with the fauk and dala only. The Buree cocks also have two colours so they are [also] called ‘buree metan’ which means black buree.

Fauk The fauk cock can challenge the dala. The fauk cock is all red.

Meata The meata cocks are best suited to fight at six o’clock in the afternoon against nase or fauk cocks

Sasabu The sasabu can defeat temo and buree metan cocks at any time during the fights

Teki The teki can oppose either meata or, dala or fauk

Dala The Dala can win if he faces temo and funak in any battle at any time

Bakasa The Bakasa is pure white in colour. It can be a winner at midday against any contender

Exploring Makassae Culture is a collaborative ethnography produced by the Marist Teachers College in Baucau. The book costs $10, and is available from the library of the Teachers College, above the market in the old town in Baucau.