Men of Timor

High-ranking Portuguese politician Miguel Relvas visited Dili last week. Relvas’ grandfather José Miranda Relvas was held in Timor as a prisoner during World War II, and his father was apparently born there.

The Portuguese narrative of the War apparently continues to be one of heroic victimization. Relvas was quoted as saying  “Our territorial sovereignty was violated and Portuguese there heroically maintained their position, preserving our values and defending our flag.” Sounds like the colonial koolaid has still not run out! Continue reading

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A quiet feeling

Ten years ago at this time, I was going to the expanse outside Dili called Tasi Tolu, to see East Timor’s flag raised publicly for the first time on the territory since 1975.

May 21, 2002, the next day, I wrote

I just wanted to share this moment of joy. Today I woke up in an Independent East Timor. Four years ago, East Timor’s plight represented for me the plainest example of the callousness, cynicism and injustice of the media, of politicians, of the mystical “international community”… it was a source of a sort of bitter personal awakening for me at age 18.

Now I can say, that while living in East Timor for 9 months has only deepened for me the complexity of the words “justice” and “independence,” I can see today as the truly emotional and unforgettable day that it is. […]

And no matter how bogged down any independent country becomes in irritating and mundane politics, I can verify that this moment of Independence: to believe and know in your heart that you are no longer subject to an aggressive foreign occupier, is too profound to describe.

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Lords of the land, lords of the sea

I really do not want to have to write about politics and conflict. Certain things must be said about these elections, just that I am not going to be the one to say them.

So instead, how about the amazing and FREE work of Swedish scholar Hans Hagerdal? He just published his new massive book “Lords of the land, lords of the sea” as an open access work. This is VERY exciting. (Thanks to one of my 11 readers for the tip-off.)

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Fatin Histórico

More history developments!

A friend on Facebook drew my attention to this exciting site/project to help Timorese people document the history in and around them. “Fatin Historico” (Or “Historical Place”) is a blog in English and Indonesian (with Tetum language videos) where editors hope people will contribute photos, video and text. I can’t endorse the idea enough.

They write

This project is a labor of love of several youths who want to document the sites that made Timor Leste. We are interested in buildings from the ancient, Portugese, Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian era, urban (and village) planning, hideouts, old conversations and the soil and sea of Timor Leste.

Take a look at the post about the Japanese caves in Venilale, a place that you may have noticed from the car and been curious about.

The editors are Kamil Muhammad of the University of Melbourne’s Architecture program, and Pedro Ximenes, a Baucau based journalist. They will be partnering with Architects for Peace.

I hope to contribute material when I get a chance. I think it would also be great for them to include an interactive map of the posts they publish.

The little prince

Here I hope to bring to a wider audience the tragic and compelling story of a Topass “prince” from the island of Timor who was essentially kidnapped by a Dominican priest and abandoned in France in 1750.

Pascale Balthazar, the 12 year old son Topasse ruler Gaspar da Costa was taken with a couple of dozen slaves to Macau. There his charlatan “protector” Dominican Father Ignácio sold most of his slaves in Macau and his nice clothes in Canton, after which time they continued on to France, in a journey which took about nine months. During the journey, the priest convinced the boy not to reveal his status or walk around freely on the ship, as the French sailors were monsters and would eat him.

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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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Fake plastic flowers

I have never seen so many fake plastic flowers for sale in Dili. A week away from Loron Matebian – or All Souls Day, probably East Timor’s most important holiday – the streets near the Stadium, in Bairro Pite and other strategic parts of town are lined with lurid plastic flowers. “Loose” ones, fake bouquets, strings of flowers. They are bright purples, pinks, oranges, explosions of color.

The production of fruits and vegetables has caught up with demand in Dili over the past couple of years to an impressive degree. It seems a shame that the shame work to jumpstart these markets could not be done with cut flowers.

The fake flowers are probably an indication of the unparalleled disposable income of Dili residents – of the money splashed around with various cash transfer schemes and compensation schemes.

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