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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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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Collapse three years into one

South Sudan gains its independence today – with many more dark clouds than East Timor had at the time. Troubling reports of fighting and of mass displacements in the border regions.

East Timor’s struggle against an invading force was quite different that South Sudan’s. In 1998, a referendum (and a half-hearted ceasefire) was brokered. 1999 was the year the referendum, the build-up and the bloody aftermath and mass displacement of the East Timorese population.

After a horrendous scorched earth campaign which cost many lives, transferred much wealth to Indonesia, and seriously disrupted the territory, East Timorese had over 2 years of UN administration before they formally declared independence (for a second time).

I cannot help but see events in South Sudan as a sort of “pile-up” of Timor’s 1999 and 2002. Continue reading

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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“I feel like my soul flew away from my body”

Today is both the anniversary of the 1999 Referendum and the International Day of the Disappeared.

Researcher Simon Robins wrote this assessment of the needs of families of the disappeared in East Timor earlier this year (pdfs in English and in Tetum). He quotes a representative of a womens group from Liquiça

I watched very closely the needs of victims‘ families; firstly it is important to have justice, secondly to have reparation for the victim’s family, that way they can live and carry on with their lives. Through reparation, the person can continue her life, look forward to the future and to be back again as she used to be. Looking at the side of education this time the Government has done some part of its duty as well as some payment for mothers to pay children school fees, again not all are getting this, only some of them. Another issue is the economic and especially health: why is that, because during this period, some of the victim’s family, wives are the most affected mentally. For these women, what they saw and what they’ve been through was notorious and they took it badly. A person like that had trauma and what will we do to heal that or to help them out of trouble? If there exists a treatment or counselling that can help her out so that person can continue her life normally.

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