The year this image (for sale on Ebay) was taken by NASA’s TIROS VII Satellite.

To put things in perspective, 1963 was the year of the “referendum” in Irian Jaya and Sukarno’s “confrontation” with Malaysia. It was of course the year of JFK’s assassination. Beatlemania started in earnest in ’63. Both Cold War superpowers were busy in the space race.

Portugal was already fighting three anti-colonial insurgencies in Africa. Algeria adopted its constitution in 1963.

In Timor, it was Filipe Themudo Barata’s last year in office, a term which he began as the repression of the Rebellion of 1959 was wrapping up. Many of those 68 deported in connection with the Rebellion – none ever having due judicial process – were still in exile in Angola. One VIP Timorese prisoner, Francisco de Araújo, and the four Indonesian prisoners, would be home by 1963.

Themudo Barata was an army man with more vision than most, and in his Timor Contemporâneo (tragically out of print, probably the best resource on post WWII Portuguese Timor), explains how bad infrastructure was on his arrival. The limited but ground-breaking work to build schools that Governor Fontoura launched in the 1930s was destroyed by Allied bombing. Themudo Barata did make strides in widening access to primary and middle school education.

Future FALINTIL leaders were already entering primary school. Tuar Matan Ruak entered in 1963, according to his official biography which is quite worthwhile.

In 1963, Constâncio Pinto and Fernando “La Sama” de Araújo were born: the beginning of a generation which would more likely enter the urban resistance than become FALINTIL.


Please do not eat the animals

After the last post, I was wondering what could possibly lighten the mood. And then I stumbled upon “Hamnasa” — a Tetum joke blog. The author writes

Ha’u-nia blog ne’e ba ita timoroan atu hamnasa uitoan, tanba polítiku sira iha ita-nia rain só halo ita triste hela de’it. My blog is for Timorese to laugh a little, because the politicians of our land just make us sad.

It’s a real shame the blog is so biased against one political party. A lot of the jokes are anti-Fretilin, and they are funny, but there is nothing making fun of the idiocy in other parties. Some are about gender relations in Timor, however let me advise there are some pretty disparaging jokes about Australian women. For malais, it’s an opportunity to practice some Tetum. I thought I would translate a non-partisan, non-offensive joke

The signs put up at the Dili Zoo

Before 1975: Please do not feed the animals

Between 1975-1999: Please do not take the animals’ food

Between 1999-2002: Please bring the animals food and UNTAET will give you three dollars and some expensive food

Between 2002-2007: Please do not take the animals’ food and please do not eat the animals

Haree = fiar

Over a week after [rebel leader] Alfredo’s demise, a good percentage of the visitors to this site arrive with search terms indicating they would like to see his dead body. [Warning: do not scroll down if you do not wish to see this image.]

When Savimbi was killed in Angola, there was widespread disbelief. Photos were intentionally distributed to convince people of his death.

Whatever your opinion of the man, Alfredo was not a monster like Savimbi. But like the leader of UNITA, he was larger than life. Sarah Niner reminds us that had a bit of many Timorese identities: part Portuguese, son of Fretilin, traumatized child, slave of the Indonesian army, member of urban resistance, asylum seeker, VB-drinking member of the diaspora, hirus-teen who spoke back to authority, a lover, and a man who lashed out when he felt trapped — both at home and as a rebel soldier.

In a place where so many of Alfredo’s contemporaries were disappeared from 1975-1999, is there some catharsis in seeing?


Assassination. 1887. (Part 2)

It seems the Interim Secretary and Governor Lacerda Maia really had it coming. One can almost see the assassination of the Governor coming in reading accounts of the weeks and months prior.

The Secretary abused the most influential Timor kings, including the Lucas Barreto, the King of Motael, who wrote

Having gone to the government offices on the 23rd of February of this year, to request that the interim Secretary Private Francisco Ferreira release two moors under my jurisdiction who were prisoners for two weeks, I arrived in the presence of the said Secretary, made the due greetings and he ordered me to sit and asked me what I wanted? I responded that I had come to ask for the release of the two men that he had ordered prisoner at Sica posto, not responding to this request, he asked if I was the king of the moors to which I responded I’m not king of the moors, but instead of Motael, the moors who come to reside in Dilly are subjects to Motael by quite old custom. He added these words: just because you are King of Motael does not mean I can put you in a yoke [congo], and I’ve put many rulers in the interior in them, and you just because you use a tie around your neck doesn’t mean you can’t fit in the yoke?

Beyond descriptions of the beatings of militiamen, the commander of the moradores José da Cunha, had very graphic allegations of violence and humiliation perpetrated by the Governor. He left these in a letter also found at the Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino:

I have more accusations. That the Governor, requesting a guard detail of militiamen at the Lahane Palace composed of eight soldiers and a corporal, substituted weekly, these soldiers were not considered a guard detail but as servants to carry around the Governor in a litter […] prodding them up and down to make them run like horses in line. The governor said, run horse militiamen. If the soldiers were tired they took more from the whip he carried in hand. I must expose that these soldiers also served to bring firewood and water to the kitchen of the Governor […] Finally I have to expose the following: these soldiers of the Lahane Palace were forced by the Governor to bring women to the Palace, if in the case they could not bring them, they are punished by whipping delivered by the hands of the Governor himself and ordered to empty his bed pan.

So the episode of the assassination of the Governor (who seems to have been mistaken for the Interim Secretary by an angry mob) seems to have occurred against a backdrop of egregious abuse of power, even by colonial standards. The most immediate causes were the beatings of the militiamen over the slaughter of Ana Cunha’s pigs (see Part 1) — and the Govenor’s arrogant refusal to hear the arguments of Da Cunha to discipline the Interim Secretary.

According to Da Cunha, following the beatings of his men, he went alone to complain to the Governor. He was dismissed. Then he went to Lahane to protest with the other militia commanders, the Governor reacted dismissively

On the third of the current month I ordered a meeting of the officials of the detail of militiamen under my command to accompany me to Lahane Palace to ask for justice or action by the Governor regarding the beating of official Sebastião Pinheiro, which we did and went to the Palace to meet the Governor. He firstly asked us if the 100 soldiers were ready [for the vassalage ceremony].

I responded they are ready at the posto, Your Excellency.

The Governor asked if I wanted to say something.

I said Yes, Sir, I come with my officials to petition to Your Excellence for justice for the beating of the official.

To which the Governor responded before all, have You Sir brought all of these officials here to scare me? Look, get out of here, right away, leave, and the Governor entered the Palace without saying another word.

I turned to the officials and said, it’s better we leave because here there will be no measures taken and no justice.

Barreto, the King of Motael, described the same scene, for which he was present

Seeing this [our request], exalted by his excitement, said, “Sir Cunha: [illegible] I am not a boy to come with your forces to scare me, I told you yesterday that I will do justice when I want to, so for now there is no justice, you sirs are of bad humour and I even more so, retreat from here now,” he said three times these words, entered his room and did not come out.

It is important to note that in February 1887, Dili was playing host to a number of militia forces, most especially the militia of Maubara. You’ll recall Maubara was a coastal kingdom traded from the Dutch for Flores Island in 1859, which had been rebellious and refused to come into the Portuguese fold for the decades prior. The city was preparing for a ceremony of the vassalagem, or vassalage (submission), of Maubara. (This was not the first ceremony of the sort.) It is not clear how this Maubara presence affected the course of events.

In any case, Da Cunha says that within an hour of the return of his group to Dili, he heard the Governor was dead. And that the violence was perpetrated by a “brutish” crowd who “lost respect.”

The more I travel to post-colonial places and think about even the race politics in my city in America, the more I come to the conclusion that if you would like to understand the present, don’t stop studying the past until you’ve reached the great-grandparents. Just a word to encourage potential Timorese historians: these letters are just some of many written by Timorese kings available in Portuguese archives. [All translations and transcriptions and their errors are mine.]

Assassination. 1887. (Part 1)


One of the most dramatic episodes of colonial history in Portuguese Timor was most definitely the assassination of Governor Lacerda Maia in Dili in 1887. He was allegedly brought down with daggers while on horseback by moradores, or Timorese militia, and torn to pieces on the spot.

He appeared in public the day of his death with little security. This after tensions with the King of Motael and the moradores camped out in Dili. The moradores were upset about a number of issues, but most of all what they perceived to be abuse of power and disrespect by the Governor’s Secretary. There were clearly other reasons why the moradores were angry that day, moreover, many were gathered from the Western kingdoms in Dili. (Sound eerily familiar?) The King of Motael was accused, and sent into exile, for having stirred up the crowds and encouraged Lacerda Maia’s public demise. I believe he was later exonerated.

Father Teixeira, in a footnote in his invaluable Macau e a Diocese de Timor (1974), transcribed the story as told by Hermengildo Martins, son of the ruler of Ermera. Central to his version of the story is Ana Eduarda, the illegitimate daughter of Portuguese commander Duarte Leão Cabreira, who put down revolts in the 1860s across Timor. [My translation]

Private Francisco Ferreira, in the capacity of commander of the city of Dili — major of the town — in the pictoresque language of the Timorese, prohibited pigs from wandering the streets. Ana Eduarda, not knowing the edict or supposing that her situation as companion of the Private exempted her from his decision, let her pigs circulate in the street. The militia, following the received orders, slaughtered the swine. Ana was indignant […] and when the Private arrived home from the Governor’s residence she told him what had happened; he then called the officials of the militia and chastised them bitterly, shouting that the ban did not apply to Ana’s pigs. Submissively, they retorted that they had merely followed the orders that he himself had given. Ana had transgressed them, hence their action taken.

Then the Private lowered to insults, calling them dogs. The officials retreated, and, in the quartel of the militia, they met, resolving, at the first opportunity, to liquidate him. Meanwhile, denunciations made it to the Private that they were preparing an attack on the morning of the 3rd. On this day, feigning sickness, the Private did not appear at the Residence. The Governor, who knew nothing, descended to Dili. At the militia post, situated where the tanks of Balide are today, he came across a large gathering of people who struck at him with daggers.

Surprised by the attack — that all indications were had also been prepared for the Secretary — Lacerda Maia continued on his way to town, and, upon arriving to where the subdelegation of health is today, there was another attack, in which the Governor succumbed, victim — it seems — to errors unknown to him. He fell in front of the place that is today the establishment of merchant Lai Juman.

One of the most fascinating things about this moment is that Timorese voices are still ‘audible.’ In Part 2, I will quote from the letter of the King of Motael, who left his extensive written testimony, proclaiming his innocence and detailing a much longer list of colonial abuses. The letter, found at the Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino, sheds much light on the colonial dynamics of the time.

Part Two here

Ukun rasik a’an

Let’s talk about the best of all possible scenarios.

Obvious start: Ramos-Horta is welcomed home by all Timorese, including the political elite. A spirit of national unity allows for an immediate consensus on security-sector reform, and Timorese recognize that if the UN could not even run into gunfire to fetch their bleeding President, it cannot guarantee security even in the short term.

Next, after a period of reflection, and diligence by the media and the judiciary to main innocence until proven guilt, the rest of Reinado’s men hand themselves over to Timorese authorities. They are tried in a timely manner, and afforded a vigorous and capable defense, and the nation follows over the mass media. The trial gives the accused petitioners the chance to air their motives and point of view, and is cathartic for many of Reinado’s supporters.

The government and WFP continue food aid or work schemes to the most vulnerable IDPs in Dili, and material and logistical support is brought in to rebuild houses. Land conflicts are aired and addressed at the suco level with support from national institutions. People leave the camps.

The government and international institutions finally give due attention to the issue of food security and its relation to conflict in Timor. Government looks to buy and market as much surplus rice as possible, and builds a store of Timorese rice for emergencies.

The opposition parties invest in Parliament as the most important venue to challenge the government and build democractic institutions, but stop making unfounded insinuations and barbed comments in press conferences and blogs.

After a period of stability in the security sector, Timor asks the ISF to leave.

Basically, the best of all possible scenarios is to look at how Timor can be self-sufficient, or independent. It is Timorese institutions that will guarantee this. Ramos-Horta knew this when he Timorized his security team, even though it cost him dearly. The ISF is not a solution, even to catching the ‘rebels’ on the run. UN Police are not a solution to Dili’s instability. WFP is not a solution to Timor’s food security problems. Blogs and the international media are not places for dialogue — the Timorese parliament is.

The vast majority of Timorese live by an ethic of self-sufficiency. They have to for survival. I would argue the political economy of aid and peacekeeping in Dili has severely warped the elite’s notion of “independence.”