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.]


One thought on “Assassination. 1887. (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: Assassination. 1887. (Part 1) « Return to Rai Ketak

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