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.