After much delaying and paralysis, I was able to defend my MA thesis last year on the memory of collective violence from colonial East Timor. I remember trying to think of a way to make sense of the subject matter at hand to my kind friends and colleagues in the room. Most were Portuguese, knew Timor growing up, unlike me. For many, the images of the Santa Cruz massacre were indelibly imprinted on their young consciousness in 1991, so I evoked them:
Hundreds of Timorese, running to the camera, kicking up dust, with looks of absolute panic. In a cemetery, young people fallen, hit by bullets from the rifles of the invisible Indonesian army. One young man in particular bleeding in the arms of another… If you like, I “heard” this image before I saw it.
I remember Amy Goodman, present in Santa Cruz, eyewitness and survivor, telling a spellbound room of young Amnesty International activists about this in 1996. I’m not sure I actually ever watched the footage of Santa Cruz except small clips in John Pilger’s Death of a Nation.
In 1999, I followed the horrifying build-up to the referendum, the last months in Brazil, where one was lucky to find even a printed image of Timor. In 2000, eyewitnesses both foreigners and Timorese shared their experiences with me of Dili and of flight. (I never saw footage of 1999 until much later, when I watched Scenes from Occupation, by Carmela Baranowska.)
The pool of blood grew, but it was still not something visible to me. The years I lived there it grew. In 2006 it grew in new and strange directions.
Now they are digging up bones in Hera, from what appears to be unmarked graves from Santa Cruz. Bones with traces of violence. Silent. Alarmingly white and solid. Alone.
In Liquiça the grave sites have yet to be found.
The pool of blood remains invisible to many but that does not mean we cannot still feel it seeping between our toes.
One reaction is silence, a trembling chin — an inability to speak or to write. Another reaction is a loud and truly righteous pursuit of Justice. Yet another reaction is to attend to the senses. To compensate. Stuff the hungry belly — to seek feeling.
Sometimes these reactions come all in short order, or intermingle and seem paradoxical and hypocritical.
Is it right for me to speak of “us” — of ita?