In the past 24 hours:
First, I found this item on Ebay.
I periodically track what priceless East Timorese artefacts are being peddled from Bali and Australia. In the past, I have seen rattan sticks (known as rota in parts of East Timor) for sale. The most seemingly valuable items to be fair seem to originate from Atoni regions of West Timor.
It is hard to say how much of what is bought and sold is, or was, of importance to communities — more than mere vulgar decorative items. (For that matter, how much was stolen from East Timor in 1999.)
This particular carving is allegedly from Ataúro, and I am venturing a guess that it was more than decorative; it had some kind of transcendent value to a community for a period during the twentieth century.
The issue, it seems, is not so much that a particular item is bought and sold, it is the question of who has the right to sell. And where are the profits (hundreds of dollars!) going.
After, I read Lusa’s interview with Ramos Horta. The President explains why he feels perfectly justified in pardoning the last remaining militia convicted for crimes against humanity in 1999. He calls militia commander Marques um palerma, um desgraçado (which I would translate as “a chump, a pathetic guy”).
He says that “The best way to honor the dead is to create a free, peaceful and prosperous country, so we can say that so much sacrifice was not in vain.”
Reading that line, I think the operative word is prosperous. I go back to the same questions I ask about the artefacts on Ebay: who has the right to “sell” what belongs to the community? And who benefits from this prosperity?