Dili under the PIDE


The 25th of April, anniversary of Portugal’s 1974 Carnation Revolution is fast approaching. This day brought the sudden end to fascism in Portugal. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Dili was the home to the Policia Internacional de Defesa do Estado, AKA the PIDE, Salazar’s “secret” police. This for almost two decades prior to the Indonesian occupation.

Osmar White, a well-known Australian foreign correspondent of his day, describes the impact of the PIDE in his riotous Time Now, Time Before. I believe he visited [update: in the early 60s], and he may have altered the PIDE agent’s name. Shortly after arrival, having a brandy with Roger Flett [update: based on James Dunn], the Australian consul at the time, “Flett” tells him:

“You’re going to see quite a bit of Alvaro. He’s the most un-secret secret policeman this side of the iron stump. But don’t underestimate him because of that. He employs a dozen pimps and they’re much harder to spot.”

In my sinful pride, I did not at first take Alvaro very seriously. During the next few days he became part of the decor of an innocent tourist’s life in Dili… Alvaro became to build up a personality. I learnt all sorts of details about him. He had hands with fur of black hair on their backs and he manicured his long yellow fingernails. He wore his linen for three days and his silk jackets for a week, but the black-and-white buckskin shoes were immaculately kept. He was afflicted with blackheads and offensive breath. He was an untidy eater and his front was always spotted with spilled food. He was so gross, phlegmatic and sinister that even his mother couldn’t have loved him in this adult form.

I made a few acquaintances at the club to which the Indian consul introduced me, but Alvaro appeared and they dropped me. I tried to hire a car for a run in the country, but mysteriously all the available vehicles had to be garaged for major repairs. Even the Chinese shopkeepers and the hotel staff could not be tempted to tarry and gossip.

Then I discovered that Alvaro’s activities extended far beyond sending unwelcome visitors to Coventry. My room at the hotel was being searched periodically and the contents of my dispatch case examined.

For a time, the knowledge provided me with a good deal of malicious diversion. Alvaro must have something to get his teeth into, so I filled out a number of quarto sheets with meaningless five-letter combinations, made inked ‘corrections’ here and there as if I had checked the text for errors, then tore the sheets into small piece and dropped them with fruit peelings and cigarette butts into the wastepaper basket. […]

Dili as I remembered it had been a picturesque, raffish place full of characters and colour. But the war charged all that. During the Japanese occuption, Allied bombers had flattened the old town. In the interests of progress, the Administration had made the Chinese shopkeepers replace their ramshackle shanties with over-solid concrete structures in which the paucity of goods for sale looked absurd… The only monuments to the old days were a few buildings with stone and plaster work dating back to the early nineteenth century, the sea-wall and marine drive on which were set ancient cannon, yawning over the bay with rusty black mouths, and the air of shabby frustration which broods over all places inhabited by generation after generation of subservient and unhappy people.

Clearly, no amount of furious observation could produce newspaper copy out of this thwarting place and situation. I must face the fact that Alvaro had me on the mat, and the referee was making the count! […]

During the night I woke up and remembered the man Alvaro reminded me of. He had been prisoner in Buchenwald concentration camp, and I’d talked to him on the day of liberation. He was a prisoner who had somehow managed to remain well-fleshed after two years of captivity. Next morning he had been discovered hanging by the neck on piano wire in the cellar where the SS men had carried out executions by strangling.

The crowd began to gather in the market place soon after dawn — straggly files of laden ponies and people bent double under crates and matting-wrapped bundles. Here and there among them were hand-carts and dilapidated bicycles. […]

The men and animals moved listlessly. There no suggestion of eagerness or bustle, no cries of vendors, only a low murmur of voices and the noises made by tethered or crated animals. Substantial suppliers were evidently allocated fixed space under cover in a large, concrete-floored building with an iron roof and timbered frame. The bush farmers packed their produce on mats outside and settled down on their haunches to await trade.

The first customers were Chinese storekeepers in town who were bulk buyers of fruit, vegetables, pigs, poultry and eggs displayed in the covered market. There was remarkably little bargaining. Prices seemed virtually fixed and business was transacted rapidly. Chaffering began only when the small buyers came — curt, arrogant servants from European households, Eurasian and Timorese wage earners seeking the week’s domestic rations. Even so, the bargaining was never spirited or rancorous by Oriental standards. I began to realize that this was entirely a buyer’s market. Except for a proportion of reasonably good-quality produce snapped up early by the Chinese traders, it was hopelessly over-supplied with the stale, pitiable rubbish which is surplus to rural poverty.

By eight o’clock, all ‘serious’ business was finished. Even in the big shed, I doubted any transaction had involved more than a few hundred escudos. Attention now focused on the centavo market outside.

The sellers sat in irregular, dejected lines brooding over their mats, on which were displayed hands of tiny green bananas, papaws, betel nuts and pepa leaves, little mounds of slaked lime, bunches of shrived greenstuff, peppers and medicinal herbs, bundles of tindery dry fish fillets, sea shells, hand-whittled clothes pegs and stack of palm frond mats.

As the sun climbed and the clouds rose from the hilltops, market-day entered its second phase — the phase of carnival. The men joined in argumentative groups, the children in restless gangs hurried about make-believe business, the young bucks strutted for the girls, and the older women who were left to guard the miserable piles of unsold produce gossiped with their neighbours and cried questions and answers to those further away.

A crowd collected around a musician with a one-stringed fiddle and a thin, black boy who sang in a thin, nasal treble and beat a lizard-skin drum with the palms of his hands. An Arab medicine-seller with an assortment of strange substances and metal bowls and bottles in front of him began calling his wares — the only ‘stallholder’ in the whole market that day to do so.

The volume of mob-noise gradually increased. It was an ominous noise because it had no ingredient of laughter. The children shouted and squabbled and chase one another, yipping. But they did not laugh. No one laughed, or even smiled. It was an odd and almost frightening experience to move among several thousand people gathered together for commerce and gossip and the meeting of friends, and yet to hear no sound of mirth or harmony.

Could it be that all the unsmiling people were asleep — or were they just dreaming?

Alvaro was at the airport bright and early in the morning, standing behind the man who checked the passports of arriving passengers. I marched over to Alvaro and lifted my hat and said, ‘Good morning, Senhor Marques.’

‘I’ve had a most successful visit,’ I went on blandly, ‘thanks for your concentrating my attention to the useful material.

He spoke to me. Alvaro actually spoke to me!

He said: ‘What is that?’

‘I shall be writing serveral articles about my visit, Senhor Marques — and I shall make a point of seeing that your name is used.’

For a fraction of a second, fear showed in the eyes of Alvaro Manuel Mendes e Marques.

I highly recommend a read through the full chapter, which describes Baucau, Aileu, and an interview with two Portuguese dissidents, a Doctor and his wife who are about to be sent to prison in Portugal.

My name is Luca

During the campaign, Manuel Tilman was quoted in a fascinating article in Público claiming that he was a “socialist.” My translation of his lesson to the malais:

“…There were two confederations. That of Lorosomo, with 16 kingdoms, and that of the Belos, with 36. Each one had a king, but there was a treaty to divide the powers. Lorosomo had the political and religious power. The one of this side, the Belos, the military and administrative. That is why we are so irascible.”

They were two attributions which complemented each other, for this the island should be united. Not just the eastern part. “Politically we are separated. The Western side is Indonesian, and the eastern independent. But we are just one nation. I have a project of unification, but it is not for the moment.[…]

“I am descendent of the earlier kings of Timor.” He is, then, a monarchist. “Yes. One of the flags we adopted is that of the monarchy.” And is his party religious? “No. It’s a party of tradition and ethnology. Look at these symbols.” He approaches a sort of tree trunk with three branches next to a wooden cross. “This is an ‘aitos,’ adored since time immemorial. It symbolizes the fertility of the earth and the existance of one only God. We had this. The Christians brought that (the cross), that means that our God had already revealed himself in other parts of the world. The two complement each other. Politics mixes with culture. The cultural identity of the people is mystical. I want to recover this.”

In the Timorese political spectrum, Tilman is considered on the extreme-right. He denies it. “I am socialist. Not like in Portugal, where the Socialists are republicans and lay people, like Mario Soares says. Here, it’s necessary to adapt socialism to the cultural reality of Timor.”

Will mystical socialism work? “My dear friend, with so much money and such a small population, it would work to apply any ideology. As long as I have the people calm.”

Is there some experience in the world, of the application of this type of mystical socialism? “No, I’m forging my own path. I will implement it. Our ancestors had the same system. It was very effective.”

Is it any wonder then, that Tilman’s posters have a sky blue and white cloud background, both the colors of the Portuguese monarchical flag? Manuel Tilman was born in Maubisse of royal parents, his colleagues and founders of the KOTA party are from the royal family of Luca. Augusto Panão (1920) traces the links between the kings of Timor in articles called “Usos e Costumes” in the Revista Colonial, and surprise, surprise, arises the word “monarchico-socialist”:

As more than half of the island is Portuguese, it is intuitive that all of the indigenous who live under the flag of the quinas respect and obey the laws of the Republic, which does not prevent that among them they are… monarchico-socialists in their way, and they have hoisted, as a standard of rebellion, the blue and white flag in the fort of Fatu Boe in 1912, in place of any other. […]

The family tree of all of the nobility of the island has, as we have already said, has it roots in the same origin, in the celebrated family of ship-wrecked people who came from Timor Laut.

From this tree shot off two branches — the Bellos and the Bealis — which in turn, divided, transplating themselves here and there, taking the names Loros and Babulos.

So it is precisely from these sources that the people of Timor look to whenever they need to elect a chief, and quite principally when this chief is the king.

It is from the same origin that all of the “blue blood” of the Island descends.

That is, in the Portuguese part of the island or in the Dutch part, there are nine Loros and nine Babulos.

Nine Loros and nine Babulos on the Bello trunk and nine Loros and nine Babulos on the Behali trunk. Born from these different genealogical trunks after their separation in Quier’as, the Bello trunk going to plant roots in Luca, on the coast, where, spent and falling to bits, is still represented by the descendent of the king D. Clementino, recently deceased, and the Behali trunk create its roots in the border region of Bobanaro, where, they say, it is still strong and vigorous. […]

The truth is, at least according to me, that if it were not for the alliance by marriage that he obtained with certain kings from the border, the chief of the revolt D. Boaventura de Sotto Maior, with great difficulty could have sealed off entry to his kingdom Manufahi to the government troops, as he did at the beginning of operations.

It’s important to note that Panão’s main informant is from Ossu, hence the partiality to Luca over other kingdoms who also claim to be the “trunk” of Bello power in East Timor. He goes on to describe continued intermarriage in the 1910s between kings in the East and the West, all of whom claim to be descended from either the Behali or Bello trunk.

Another odd thing about Panão’s version is that Sorbian or Servião, often considered the West Timorese “trunk,” does not appear. (In Panão’s version the Dutch are left with virtually nothing.) Most often, elites tend to evoke the image of central ritual power in Wehale, with the Sorbian/Servião as the “Dutch” trunk and Luca/Suai as the “Portuguese” trunk. The notion of a Timor unified by divided by colonialism and these two (or three) “trunks” clearly has been used by the colonizers, but also imbued with great meaning by Timorese. There is no “authentic” pre-colonial Timor to be located in all of this! See Hans Hägerdal (.pdf) for more on colonial rivalry and geography of the island.

One thing that is clear in talking to elites in Timor is that this idea of a kinship between coastal kingdoms, and specifically Tetum-speaking places, is a widely held belief. Wehale, now in West Timor, is considered to have been a very important ritual center on the island before the Portuguese destroyed it in 1642. For more on Beali, or Wehale, see the work of Gerson Tom Therik.

“Future years will never know

… the seething hell and the black infernal background of countless minor scenes and interiors…
In the mushy influences of current times, too, the fervid atmosphere and typical events of those years are in danger of being totally forgotten.”  

Walt Whitman, Specimen Days

On October 22, 2006 the international media reported that two bodies were found in sacks, near the Pertamina Oil Depot. Early reports said they were mutilated, headless and limbless. Later reports say one had machete cuts on arms and smashed skull. Media reports suggested they were from Baucau and Lautem, victims of gang warfare. The implication was that they were gang members.

The victims have no names.

Google any Timorese activist arrested, kidnapped or killed in the 1990s. Any victim of Indonesian military brutality. The name will pop up on Human Rights websites and listserve archives from the times.

The victims of 2006, aside from the PNTL victims, have no names.

In early November I met who I believe to be a friend and colleague of this Baucau victim. He told me his friend was a student at UNTIL, pulled out of a taxi at a road block on the way home from class. He was riding in a taxi because he was too scared to ride in the microlets. He was taken away in broad daylight. 

The boy who told me this had subsequently dropped out of University. He had attended the funeral of the Victim only a week before. He wanted to practice his English.

I ask myself, why didn’t I ask for the name of the Victim at the time I heard this story? Why couldn’t I have asked more? Perhaps I felt it was simply too sensitive. Perhaps I simply couldn’t handle it.

We assimilated these gruesome murders, even at the time they rippled across our consciousness, as one of “countless minor scenes.” How could we?

And what of the many nameless others?

Pomp and colonization

The "Quinas" of Portugal

Much has been written about the 1934 Exposição Colonial and 1940 Exposição do Mundo Português in Porto and Lisbon respectively, where “natives” from across the Portuguese empire were put on display — much like third world peoples were in the 1904 World’s Fair in St Louis. (Dom Aleixo Corte Real of Ainaro and Dom Carlos Ximenes of Bercoli went to Porto in 1934. They were celebrated as “civilized” but were also inspected by physical anthropologists.)

Yet little has been written about the attempts of Portuguese administrators to “celebrate” Timorese culture in the colony.

Captain Armando Pinto Corrêa, an ambitious Portuguese administrator who rather resembled Eraserhead, held office as the Administrador da Circunscrição de Baucau in the early 1930s. Pinto Corrêa, it turns out, was probably the biggest promoter of Timor of his times. Quoting from his Timor Lés a Lés (1944), on taking office, he believed the régulos of Baucau did not “possess a moral unity corresponding to the administrative unity placed there by the Government” at the end of the 19th century.

So shortly after the 1930 “Agricultural, Industry, and Animal Husbandry Exposition” in Baucau, Pinto Corrêa brought 70 “maiores” from Baucau together for a great feast in the town of Baucau.

Not long after this, Pinto Corrêa visited the Dutch island of Kissar with a number of maiores. Captain Reis Costa, father of Fretilin founding member Vicente “Sa’he” Reis, is quoted at length during this visit. According to Pinto Corrêa he says, “I haven’t been to your Batavia, but I believe that in some time it could trump our Baucau.” An “indefatigable orator,” Reis Costa tells the Kissarians about nursing, agriculture and animal husbandry in Timor. He takes a friendly jab, telling them that their women, on the dance floor, are as “heavy as a sack of Matebian potatoes.” The visit was friendly, and the departure tearful, as told in Timor Lés a Lés.

Pinto Corrêa decided that they would prepare a visit for the Kissarians a couple of months later. Bringing together the chiefs of Baucau, the Administrator played on their pride, saying that Baucau district was the best in all of Timor, and he “emphasized that the excursion not only be nice for the outlanders, but an impressive lesson of our superiority.”

The first to offer to the planning of this extravagant visit, according to Pinto Corrêa, was Tenente Noco Loi of Baguia, who offered six buffaloes. Pinto Corrêa writes that it was difficult to convince the chiefs that only one buffalo would be necessary in each locality. (People in Baguia told me recently that Pinto Corrêa was a fearful siakteen, and he himself admits he was nicknamed mane manas or hot man.)

He writes:

Everywhere, there was a buzz of preparation… Two weeks before the arrival of the Kissarians, Baucau already had a festive atmosphere. Brigades of masons transformed, meanwhile, the physical appearance of the houses. Columns of stone replaced the painted wood that held up the rooves of verandas of the Chinese… In a last minute effort, the tailors finished uniforms of the pedibola players, the laborers of the chiefs, the Dutch flags and the outfits for the bainós. There were three tailors and five seamstresses working on the challenge. Just two of them, in two months, were able to make 130 complete suits… And, after thousands of difficulties, bargaining on prices, struggling with the implacable speed of certain owners, the last contracts were signed for the trucks that would make the circuit of the District, in a beautiful route of 386 kilometers…

The entourage visited, at what seemed to be lightening speed, all of the subdistricts of Baucau. One passage, on its travels from Sagadate to Baguia by moonlight is particularly amazing:

Throughout the District, all of the settlements are close to the road are signed by identical arches. From Laga to Baâguia, there are various whose signs read sonorous names: Melidai, Libagua, Samalari, Sagadate, Ate-Lari, Lavatere…

From Sagadate, the road is all illuminated by torches. Thousands of men, planted methodically, every ten meters, on both sides of the road, hold in the air large flaming brands. This imposing and theatrical scene of flames burning extended for 20 kilometers, is, at the same time, a strong and impressive parade of discipline. Surprising even for me, that, having conceived and organized, for the return from Baâguia — and not for the trip there, that was supposed to be sooner — never, however, I cared to think possible, through the night, such a colossal mobilization of people… in areas of remote sucos, and in postos, like in Laga and Kelicai, where there is not the shadow of a European, whether chefe de posto or deportado.

On their arrival in Baguia, around midnight, Pinto Corrêa described what was almost a “force feeding” of the group, with three buffaloes, ten pigs and eight chickens, hundreds of eggs, “forests” of cabbage, and “hills” of rice. There was a barrel of red wine and innumerable bottles of Port wine. He writes the guests were in a true “panic” when they saw that the cooks were attempting to “murder them” — stuff their mouths with all kinds of “zoological specimens.”

The entourage “beat its retreat” back to the coast, the torch lines tracing from Baguia all the way to the coast. They arrived in Baucau at 3am.

Pinto Corrêa finishes his account with the praise lavished on the Timorese and Portuguese by Inspector Wattimena from Kissar, recounting the “enormous admiration that he came to have for our great country, illustrious homeland of navigators and colonizers.”

I find this whole episode fascinating. Pinto Corrêa is unparalleled in his ethnographic, insider knowledge of the District. His works today contain captivating detail, often buried in footnotes. But in the end, he was a very imposing man, feeling a clear mandate to organize, direct and “civilize” if necessary by force. For this he is remembered as a siakteen.

But what motivated the maiores of Baucau? Fear? Curiosity? Competition? Did the “force feeding” of the entourage, as Pinto Corrêa suggests, constitute some kind of attempt on the part of the chiefs to assert their power and agency? (Quoting the ex-slave in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: “overcome ’em with yesses, undermine ’em with grins, agree ’em to death and destruction.”)

Finally, to what extent did Pinto Corrêa’s attempts to create a “moral unity” actually work — can both the colonial geography of the town of Baucau and the District be seen as a project of this one individual?

Out on a limb (or branch)

Looking at Timorsunshine/Tumbleweed’s generous scan of results in Timor Post, I want to make some bold suggestions, à la American punditry. I hope I’m way off the mark, for more excitement.

The districts which remain to be counted are, by order of population:

Baucau (60,000+ eligible voters, 30% in)
Ermera (54,000+, 28% in)
Bobanaro (47,000+, 35% in)
Viqueque (39,000+, 25% in)
Manufahi (23,000+, 59% in)

Because we don’t have a subdistrict breakdown, I cannot be certain of these predictions.

But I imagine the more remote subdistricts have yet to be counted.

In Baucau, there will be absenteeism and probably a similar (60/40%) breakdown between Lu Olo and RH.

In Ermera, Xavier will poll extremely well, possibly overtaking Lasama? But Lasama will be hugely successful in Bobanaro, which has a similar number of votes to be counted. It’s hard to say which district will have a higher rate of absenteeism.

Viqueque will probably steer more heavily towards Lu Olo, as in the “urban” areas RH has support and in some of the less populated eastern reaches. Tilman is polling surprisingly poorly there, considering his connection to the “royals” of Luca.

Xavier could take Manufahi, and will maintain his strong position in relation to Lu Olo.

Unless Lu Olo really dominates rural Baucau, it seems he stands to lose a couple of points to Xavier and Lasama in the national numbers. I’m unsure of how RH will fare, but I have a hard time believing he will gain ground on Lu Olo.

The electorate is really divided! This also makes me wonder if people in rural areas are “voting their conscience” or if voting decisions are made in a rather collective “top-down” way as in 2001. See Hohe’s article on the Constituent Assembly elections for more on this.

The mountain power that I was invoking a couple of weeks ago has yet to have been tallied. Traube showed in Mambai culture, the symbols tree trunk (ritual power) and the flag pole (representing political power) are still extremely weighty, and interrelated. Fretilin calls this kind of political thought feudalism or obscuranturismu. Let’s see how the mountain electorate goes, how will the mixture of “tradition,” resistance-party potency, and conscience play out?

(I could hardly believe that AP was reporting that there would be a three-way run-off between Lu Olo, RH, and Lasama. I come from the land of Red and Blue states, uhhh, but isn’t this an absurd proposition? Only two, please.)


As I was getting my hair snipped into a lovely bob, I thought of hair in Timor (again). Fuuk.

During the riots of 2002, while in remote Uatocarbau, I met a woman with a most intriguing bob. There was something very powerful about her. The short haircut is rare, and memorable. She was her own woman.

During my research I heard more than one story of Portuguese administrators shaving women’s heads to humiliate them. (This headshaving could have resonated with certain motifs associated with slavery/headhunting, according to what I have read relating to West Timor.)

There is a certain Samson-like corrolation between strength and hair in Timor. Warrior men used long hair in Timor for quite a long time, a fact which fascinated European travellers and ethnographers. The Falintil of course had famous pony tails and gigantic rebel afros. Manuel Carrascalao has not shaved his beard since his son was brutally murdered in 1999 and says he will not until justice is done.

Judging by the number of mohawks, dreads, bleached hair, all kinds of spiky hair, and playful facial hair in Timorese men, hair is still important, but people are taking a more individual tack with their hair.

But there is one group that will always stand out, no matter how they cut it. The fuuk mehan. In my archival research, I noticed that prisoners under interrogation identified one of the suspects of 1959 by his first name, followed by fuc mean.

The fuuk mehan, or the red-heads, in Timor are inevitably eye-catching, and have been a fascination of foreigners from the very beginning. They seem to be fairly limited to kingdoms just north of the southern coast of Timor, roughly from Betano to Uatocarbau. (Now of course there has been a carrot-top internal diaspora.)

Earlier in the day, I read the passage in Osório de Castro on red headed people of Aituha in the south.

He quotes Sr. Lieutenant Francisco Pedro Curado, the military commander of Manufahi (before the unfortunate Lt. Da Silva):

During a new visit that I made to Aituha in Bibisuço I did not forget the fact as you pointed out that blondish type of that population. There really are many people with characteristically red hair, and that they say are descendents of an English couple that in times past lived there. This couple escaped a shipwreck that happened on the coast, and as the coastal peoples wanted to kill them, they took refuge in Aituha, where they could peacefully leave a mixed descendence.

De Castro had heard of these people from the writings of Henry Forbes.

One of these freckled and redheaded men of Aituha I had report to the presence of the illustrious anthropologist Captain Fonseca Cardoso. I interrogated him a couple of days ago. It was not English blood, he told me, but the lulik sabai, which gave red hair to the people of the suco of Aituha. The people of the suco of Muco, who speak Tetum, have Mata blanda (blue eyes, dutch eyes), not the people of Aithua, who speak lacalei (an imprecise affirmation, as this Aituha boy, who I interrogated, had bright hazel eyes).

De Castro goes on to explain the lulik sabai:

The lulik sabai is in a rock pool, under a cliff. During a certain occasion of the year those from Aituha go sacrifice a reddish buffalo, a red pig (never a white one), to the luliks of the rock pool, because it is a pair of luliks, the figure of a man, figure of a woman, both white, with blonde hair and blue eyes, and the figure of the man uses trousers and a white jacket like a European, and the lulik woman wears a skirt like a European.

On the occasion of the celebration some see them coming out of the rock cliff. […]

The water of the rock pool rises and falls. It’s cold. Leaves that fall in jump right out.

What to make of this? I’m not sure other than pointing out, just as today’s young people try to copy David Beckham’s lastest hairdoo, Timorese have a remarkable way of absorbing change, difference and exogenous influences. (And recounting this absorption!) (And of course it also tells us how much malais obsess over Timorese recounting their own absorption of outside influences!)