Portrait of a convict as a young man

Reading of Fretilin Central Committee members’ visit to Rogério Lobato in prison, I suddenly remembered that I possessed some of Rogério’s poetry. He was a quite frequent contributor to the church’s Seará magazine in the late 1960s. He created a part called “Cantinho dos Jovens” (The Youth’s Corner). He was a shining star at seminary in Dare.

Perhaps the fifth anniversary of the restoration of Timor Leste’s independence is a time to reflect, and what better way than to read young Rogério’s desassossego, or disquiet.
Here is one of young Rogério’s “deeper” poems from Seará July 1969:

“Não sei”

Algo de mistério eu sinto.
Uma bruma de saudade
Esta minha alma inunda.

Sonho não é,
Nem é ilusão;
Esperança?
Não sei se é,
Mas talvez não…

Ela aqui fica
Ao meu lado
Esta saudade
Do passado.

Ignoro também
O que a minha alma tem
Que me deixa não sei como…
Que me leva não sei aonde…
E me atormenta não sei porque…

***

[my translation]

“I don’t know”

Something mysterious I’m feeling.
My soul filled with
A mist of nostalgia.
Dream it is not,
Nor illusion;
Hope?
I do not know if that is it,
But perhaps not…

It rests here
by my side
This nostalgia
for the past.

I also do not know
What is troubling my soul
That leaves me I know not how…
That it takes me I know not where…
And that torments me I know not why…

Black gold: finders, keepers

In the late nineteenth century in Timor, Portuguese administrators and foreign visitors began to become curious about stories of mina rai (literally, earth oil or earth fat) in various parts of Portuguese Timor. Oil prospecting began in earnest in Portuguese Timor in 1906, when a group from an Australian firm called Timor Oil Limited got the rights to prospect from then Governor Celestino da Silva. The company set up a small operation at Aliambata (Viqueque) in 1910, partly aided by the access to the site on the south coast. The company sent staff for other shorter prospecting stays in Laclubar and Allas.

In Lisbon, I stumbled across the following report submitted in 1911 by Mr Staughton, an Australia-based geologist in charge of an assessment of possibilites for commercial extraction of petroleum in the Portuguese book Informações relativas aos jazigos de petróleo e à agricultura edited by the Ministry of the Colonies, published in Lisbon by the Sociedade de Geografia (1915). I highly recommend a look at this for those who can access a copy. Most is in Portuguese but the reports by Australian geologists are in English.

I wonder if Oceanic Exploration, which is suing ConnocoPhillips and certain Timorese government officials for stripping its colonial oil rights, has its researchers combing through colonial archives! (Oceanic seemingly got in late in the game, but had links with Timor Oil Limited. More here.)

I think the parts worth noting are the company’s eagerness to exploit both the land and its people, the colonial government’s seeming unbridled joy at the developments, and the Timorese silent attempts to keep the resources hidden. I took the liberty to highlight some of the most salient passages. Note Tualo is near present-day Uatocarbau on the south coast. Also note that the kingdom of Vessoro had been decimated in a conflict with Luca/Viqueque in the early 1900s.

Mr Staughton’s report

[Aliambata]

Inspecting the station, we were most favourably impressed with the way it has been maintained by Baros under his charge.

The huts are as follows: Three living huts, of four rooms each; one dining room; one bath-room, with water laid on: one store-room, detached: and three huts for natives: the whole being artistically laid out with a garden and pebble paths just above high tide on the sea shore… (173)

On returning home, as before mentioned I immediately sent a messenger away to the Local Commandant at Tualo to engage carriers to enable us to shift camp to the new field, so that we could give it a thorough inspection, living on the ground. Again, as usual, getting away before daylight, we arrived at our destination, and after picking a site for a camp and giving our ponies an hour’s feed, we all split up and rode away in different directions, to enable us to get a lay of the country, and if possible to procure some sort of game for food for us and our men. On getting back to our proposed camp at dark we were pleased to see our carriers just coming in.

The position of this find is situated about three miles east of Tualo, some ten miles from Vessoro, and as it is practically level all the way, with a little expense, a motorcar could run from one concession to the other.

The name of this kingdom is Irabin, so in future these concessions will be referred to by that name. They are situated practically in a basin, with the hills on three sides and the sea on the other. The formation of the country is much the same for about two miles square — all undulating country, the highest point being in the centre known as “Kohoda,” a native village, which is 450 ft. above sea level.

On hunting round for some time, I found, in the middle of a maize cultivation, a similar indication of the extinct gas as we found at Vessoro. Getting a couple of natives, we immediately set to work with sticks to dig a hole, and getting down about 18in I held a match down to the hole, and as expected, it immediately lit up, which of course, explained our nightly fire; and getting hold of the local chief, he confessed that it was lit every night to do the cooking, etc. and then extinguished with dry dirt in the morning, so we should not find it. (175 – 177)

After this discovery it naturally gave us a fresh impetus to look further afield. Although the natives one and all assuring us that there were not other indications of gas or mineral anywhere else in the district, not being satisfied, Mr. Affleck and I decided to travel east into the adjoining country across the River Irraberri.

We put in the grater part of the day without any indications whatever, strangely meeting on the top of a 500ft hill densely covered with bamboos, etc, about 5 oclock in the afternoon. Having decided to examine the opposite side of the hill, we again separated, he taking one face and I the other. I had only proceeded about half a mile when, wounding a deer which ran past me, crawling after him on my hands and knees through some bamboos along a deer track, I was greatly surprised ot see in the centre of one of the thickets with a track right through it, the ground all disturbed in places with limestone boulders on the surface, and something similar to our other fields, covering an area of nearly a chain long by half wide. On coming closer I immediately saw that the far side was well alight, some of the fire in places covering up two and three feet from down in the cracks. Of course, I immediately put up a peg with my name and date of discovery, as we did on the previous finds, which I ascertained was sufficient to conserve all rights for our Company and prevent any person from jumping these claims. (177)

[…] On the Governor arriving at Vessoro with six of his administrators, he first informed us that he intended to push on to Tualo the same night, and after having breakfasted at 11 oclock we started to show him around our works, etc, and I am pleased to say that if took very little persuading on our part to induce him to stay on with us that night, it not being till late the next evening, after thoroughly inspecting all our shows, etc, that he was able to leave. I might mention that this was the first time he had ever been on our side of the island, and having previously visited all of the other oil concessions, he was most favourably impressed with what we had to show him in the way of surface shows, and more especially with the work done and being done at present. (179)

Prose poetry reporting

Two of Portugal’s best writer/journalists are writing in and on Timor at the moment. Pedro Rosa Mendes (Lusa) and Paulo Moura (Público) are both internationally recognized and represent a lyrical, insightful and humanistic reporting that is rare just about everywhere.

dherbeys.jpg

Moura’s article in this weekend’s Pública magazine, “Timor a second chance,” accompanied by brilliant black and white photos by award-winning photographer Agnes Dherbeys (featured above) caught my attention immediately. It may seem melodramatic, but I prefer this angle than that “country without hope” angle. Without massacring his work, I’ll just provide a short selection in translation:

At night, the city goes to the pigs. Absolute black. There is no electricity, not a soul. In some of the more ensconsed alleyways there are fireflies. One must stop, get out of the jeep, turn off the motor and the headlights. Stay still and silent, to feel the weight of the night in Dili. The rustling of the pigs. Nothing more. They have no problem going out. They are the only ones. Only they are not scared. Swine of various breeds and sizes, eating from the garbage containers, wallowing in the drains, without grunting, so as not to call attention. Absolute black. Destroyed houses, refugee neighborhoods, shacks, poorly erected tents, all on top of each other, ripped. The holes in the streets. The puddles of the last tropical rain, evaporating odors and memories. The scalding steam of the Asian night covering over the damage from the last crisis, the last disturbance, the last killing. Pigs and dogs, thin and sick, disputing the leftovers. The leftovers of nothing. The empty streets. The silence amplified til it becomes unbearable. The echoes of hatred. The traces. The leftovers. The sullen and vexed face of frustration. Absolute black in the capital of the youngest country in the world.

It was a great test, a great challenge. All of the ideals of Humanity concentrated on one island. On half of an island. There nothing not to be done. Centuries of definition, of putting off what is just. That which could be and should be. Centuries of history. Of advances and setbacks, errors, conquests, dellusions. Of great steps forward. Eternal returns. Generations lost. Of encounters and missed encounters with fate.

Everything that Man ever dreamed. That he struggled for and died for. Everything. The Nation. The State. The Nation-state. Identity. Independence. Sovereignty. Democracy. The people. Self-determination of peoples. Dignity.

Poor management and non-management, aid, development, International Justice, the New World Order. Peace and peace maintenance. Respect, legitimacy, recognition, humility, the Law. The United Nations.

Finally the resolutions of the Security Council were implemented. An entity was constructed. The World created a country according to what the world thought a country should be. “State of the art” of political theory. The perfectly conceived country. Born of its very idea of itself. But of a natural birth. With pain. Not without a struggle and blood. Nothing missing. The massacres, the destruction, the hundreds of thousands of dead, betrayal, victims and heroes. The epic, the tragic, the genocidal: it had it all. An untouchable country. A pure country. What else was needed?

All that Man dreamed of. The end of History. So here’s what’s left. In the deep of the night in Dili, in the dispossessed and wounded territory of the land of the crocodile, in the absolute black, out to sea, drifting, this is what is left. Here is the Country. Here is Man.

[…] No electoral campaign in the world has the intensity of this one. Young people paint their faces like aboriginal warriors and, barefoot and barechested, they dance and shout with a killer madness in their eyes. In groups on the dirt roads, to the piles of them on the small motorbikes, in masses on top of dump trucks, heaped on top of mikrolets, they shout and wave around sticks in the air, in the name of what?

In any given political gathering, the noise is deafening, sweat dripping on bodies, faces expressing extreme sentiments, absolute dedication, unmeasured fury. And joy — although it’s not always easy to perceive it. When it spills over, joy can be devastating, malignant.

Prognostications

The Bishop vs. The Shaft

It seems to me the international media’s consensus is that Ramos-Horta will win, given that he has the support of six of the defeated candidates. (James Dunn complained on his online journal that the international media seem to be biased towards Fretilin. I guess I’m missing just what coverage he is referring to?)

I predict it will be pretty close. [Well closer than the common wisdom has it.]

Following the little coverage available of the second round campaigning, and based on results from the first round, it becomes clear that rural turnout will be everything for Fretilin. If in strongholds they get high turnout, and in skeptical, opposition areas there is low turnout, then Lu Olo has a chance to come close.

Lu Olo needs extraordinarily high turnouts in the east (Lautem, Viqueque and Baucau), and in long-time pockets of Fretilin support like in certain areas of Covalima and Manufahi.

The TVTL Debate between Lu Olo and Ramos Horta, only seen in Dili, will have convinced few people to support Lu Olo. So I continue to believe a low turnout in Dili will also benefit Lu Olo.

Ramos Horta’s problem is convincing disillusioned people in remoter areas, especially those who may have supported Lasama and Xavier, to get to the polls. Another concern is to make sure that urban youth (let’s call them the J-Lo demographic) and growing non-Fretilin “middle class” (the Leader/Lita demographic) vote again on May 9.

Then the issue of a technically sound and secure vote is quite worrying, as it can affect turnout quite significantly.

The UN Certification Team pointed of a number of quite troubling areas, citing over 20 benchmarks not met. Among them:

Do all voters have secure access to polling stations, and are polling stations sufficiently well managed to enable voters to vote in an efficient and timely way?

Are voters able to cast a secret ballot, without fear of any adverse consequences?

They write, “The benchmarks do not represent an aspirational statement of unachievable best practice: they simply encapsulate what is to be found in a typical well-run election.”

Let’s hope that the CNE pulls off a better election (so we don’t have to go through another complex Certification Team report!) and that both candidates keep the campaigning cool as it has been in the past two weeks.

If both things occur, I can attest that Timor’s election will have been more pleasant than a US Presidential election.