Arbiru

Arbiru. It’s an adjective and adverb in Tetum. Quite useful and on a list of words that are important and tough to translate. Interesting that I grasp for other Asian words in the English language to translate its meaning. Somewhere between kamikaze bravery, running amok, randomness. As a memory aid, I would think “arbitrary” in English.

Arbiru can go right and it can go wrong. It is somewhere on the edge of chaos, and something essential to the war machine.

Looking through Luis Costa’s Tetum-Portuguese dictionary, I notice that there are few words in Tetum that have ar- as a prefix. The only other words from Tetum (Terik) are aruma (meaning whichever, whatever) and aran (meaning to hate, synonym with hirus).

But the word’s second and third syllables are more potent. A biru is a totem, or an amulet, possessing power to turn its holder invincible in war. Falintil guerrillas used these.

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