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!)