From the top of Ramelau yesterday morning, I saw the world. The boundaries of the visible from Timor. The top of Alor peaking out. Matebian to the east, the sun rising just next to it. Behind, the triangular shadow the mountain extending over West Timor, which was the most amazing surprise. Most of the island was covered in cloud.
Ramelau is the center for many Timorese. Not just mountain people. I remember during the time I lived here, it was still very rare to come across a world map, in a school or a workplace. A friend was saying how often young people take offense when you actually sit them down in front of a map and point to Timor. Not only is it small, but on most projections, it is far from the center.
In thinking of people’s worlds here, it is not on the spatial that is limited to direct experience. I was struck by a brief conversation with C., our guide up the mountain. I asked what his grandparents’ generation tell about war on the mountain. He immediately referred to a moment within his own experience in 1997. I persisted and asked about time before the Indonesians. He said this was something the grandparents knew as though to say that he did not either know enough or have the authority to share.
Often everything pre-1975 seems to be some primordial behemoth, stuck in time like a mastodon in a tar pit. Some carry with them crystallized images of colonial abuses, others of some kind of communitarian permaculture paradise. But this is mostly professionals and elites, people who I might have contact with in my work. In many communities, oral histories in fact reveal a Timor in constant flux, recounting arrivals of new groups, war, of expanding trade and tax networks, and of the consolidation of direct rule.
I remember thinking, as C. and his Maun pointed out Cailaco, Kablaki, Marobo, and the Loes river valley, how many battles with the Portuguese are written on this landscape. How absurd the idea of direct rule was in Timor. The Map of Cailaco (Planta de Cailaco) sprung immediately to mind – a lurid and strange image where 3D perspective and scale seem entirely lacking. Marauding Timorese war parties are depicted burning villages, and holding severed heads. Considering that map from the dizzying view from Ramelau, all of the episodic violence and history pre-1975 seemed so present, so written into the very landscape of the island.
But perhaps these are idle thoughts of somebody who does not commute six hours to high school on foot, like C. does. Thoughts of somebody who did not just lose a 25 year old friend to a “sick stomach.” (The funeral car from MSS brought the young man’s body from Dili the night before – C. had come from Ainaro for his funeral.)
On the way back, the bustle of Maubisse market seemed downright urban compared to the peace of Hatobuliko. Below the cemetery, dozens of horses “parked”. I saw peaches for sale for the first time in Timor. I asked what they were to confirm, the answer: “pissego”. They were hard and green, worlds away from the massive, soft peaches of Roald Dahl and my childhood. Another customer told me, “here, they are like this, Senhora.”