The Ala Mutu

Talking to a friend who grew up on the slopes of Matebian a couple of days ago, hearing stories about his childhood, I was struck by one thing in particular – his memories of the ala mutu, which translates from Makassae as “the jungle people”.

A mere change of timing and change of point of view, and everything changes.

My friend was too young to have spent his first years on the Mountain, fleeing the Indonesian onslaught. He never lived together with Falintil guerrillas. Instead he learned to walk and grew up in a “settled” environment. He explained, these were the years before the clandestine resistance became more organized and supplies were channeled efficiently to the mountains.

His world was made of routines and state structures. Schools, clinics, police. He remembers how people lived in double fear. As a child, he knew the ala mutu were watching. As were Indonesian spooks.

Some nights, the equivalent to Indonesia psy-ops teams would come to town, put up projectors and show films. Everybody who did not attend was considered sympathetic to the resistance and thereby dangerous. But everybody who did go feared being seen by the ala mutu. Some of these nights, things would be raided or go missing in town. The ala mutu, while invisible during the day, circulated more freely at night. They could “communicate” in many ways.

The ala mutu represented a silent and omniscient force in people’s lives. For a child, a source of anxiety. These too are memories of resistance – I hope they are not lost.

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