Thunder

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. 

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