Virtual Panel I: Writing History in Timor-Leste

Since independence a number of projects in Timor-Leste have sought to ‘write histories’ of the Indonesian occupation. While the final report of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation  is considered by many to be one of the most valuable ‘historical’ works to date, other historical narratives have been or are in the process of being produced in Timor-Leste. This panel will discuss the production of historical knowledge in Timor-Leste today.

On the 1st June (Timor-Leste time) we will start making the papers and/or presentations available to panelists. Each day we will post 1 paper and give 24 hours for comments and feedback on that paper. Those panelists who are happy to share their papers or presentations online for the wider public will do so after June 12th.

To view schedule of papers click here.

If you have any questions or queries please email:

Dr Antero Benedito da Silva, Director, Peace Center, Universidade Nasional Timor Lorosa’e.

Saga Tinan Hatnulu kontra Obskurantismu: Pedagogia de Maubere da Educação Timorense

Revolusaun 25 Abril 1974, nu’udar inisiu foun ba liberdade husi tirania regime fasista Salazar ne’ebe ukun Portugal durante besik tinan lima nulu. Maibe, ba Timor-Portuguese, 25 Abril 1974, sai loron hahu ida ba luta ukun-rasik-an ne’ebe duru teb-tebes.  Estudante Timor oan sira iha Portugal, partikular liu, grupu Antonio Carvarinho Mau Lear, Abilio Araujo, Vicenti Reis Sahe, Hamis Bassarewa konesidu mos ho ‘Hata’ no Justino Iap, ne’ebe inisia movimentu Casa dos Timores, halo analiza ne’ebe los no hatene ona katak pais superpotensia sira hanesan Estado Unidos da America no nian aliadu sira sei naturalmente apoiu Indonesia, tanba sira nian interese ekonomika no geopolitika, hodi hadau Timor husi Portugal, no Portugal laiha kbiit atu defende direitu autentiku Povo Maubere nian ba ukun-rasik-an.  Proprio Nicolau dos Reis Lobato, Vice Presidenti FRETILIN nian ne’ebe halo visita ba Portugal mediu tinan 1975 lamenta katak Timor-Portugues sei monu fali ba dominu neo-kolonial ida, “Descolonizar para a independência e lojico; mas, descolonizar para deixar colonizar  de novo e simplesmente um contra-senso, um absodo (Lobato 1975). Nune’e, lideransa foinsae sira, refere ba Nicolau no Estudantes Casa dos Timores sira ne’e fiar katak, se sira la halo formulasaun ideolojiku no pedagojiku ida ne’ebe los, hodi halo intervensaun no involve povu luta ba sira nian direitu ba libertasaun, mak, Timor sei sai kolonia regime militar anti-komunismu Indonesia nian. To view abstract in English click here.

Takahiro Kamisuna, Ph.D student Osaka School of International Public Policy, Osaka University, Japan

Beyond nationalism: The youth’s struggle for the independence of East Timor and democracy for Indonesia

In the 1990s, East Timorese and Indonesian youths carried out joint protests against Indonesia’s New Order regime. Grasping a renewed student movement in Indonesia for democracy as an opportunity, the East Timorese students studying at Indonesian universities attempted to create a common political sphere with Indonesian student activists, despite their goals were different, independence and democracy. While the creation of a common political sphere has been frequently argued in the literature of liberal and plural nationalism by Southeast Asian scholarships, the analytical scopes of existing literature have narrowly limited nationalism within the conventional wisdom of territorial nations. In contrast, this paper expands the extant literature’s notion of nationalism by interrogating political spaces that influence, accommodate, and transcend nationalism outside its territorial scope. Through fieldwork in Dili and Jakarta and archive research, this paper reveals that young East Timorese nationalists advanced and strengthened their cause by articulating Indonesiação do Conflito de Timor-Leste and Indonesianizing the conflict. Focusing on a clandestine group of young East Timorese nationalists in Indonesia, Resistência Nacional dos Estudantes de Timor-Leste (Renetil), this study argues that a conducive political sphere was created when East Timorese activists adopted the Indonesian nationalist rhetoric of pemuda (politicized youths), which allowed East Timorese to share common vocabulary of dissent with Indonesians. It suggests that nationalism is not an exclusive byproduct of different currents operating in a closed socio-political space but also by interactions of actors in more open and common political spaces as demonstrated by East Timorese-Indonesian solidarity.

Rogério Sávio Ma’averu, Centro Nacional Chega!

Everyday lives and resistance of East Timorese women under colonialism and occupation

The national historical account of the East Timorese people struggling against foreign rule during the long years of Portuguese colonialism (1769-1975) and Indonesian occupation (1975-1999) has been dominated by male heroes engaged in armed resistance and in clandestine networks, with only a few exceptions. There has been scant research into everyday life under colonial rule and occupation, especially women’s lives and their roles, nor has there been any substantive analysis on how colonialism and occupation impacted women’s daily lives. This paper shares the results of an oral history research project which managed to record women’s daily lives in rural areas and the capital during the periods of Portuguese late-colonialism (1950-1975) and Indonesian occupation (1975-1999) in the districts of Bobonaro, Dili, Ermera, Lospalos and Suai. This was a research project carried out by a team of Timor-Leste based researchers from the Commission of Research and History Production of the Timorese Women (CPEHMT) and the Popular Organisation of the Timorese Women (OPMT) which aimed at ‘documenting the experience of women who lived through the Indonesian occupation’ and resulted in interviewing nearly 800 people. The histories told by these women do not carry the self-identification of ‘heroic actions’ in the sense that is attributed in contemporary Timor-Leste. The research shows that women from all social classes and occupations were engaged in essential roles which sustained their families and their communities’ socio-economic lives, extending from Portuguese colonial times through to independence.

Dr Marisa Ramos Gonçalves, Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra

Contested histories and solidarities from the South: the East Timorese diaspora in Mozambique (1975-1999)

Portuguese colonialism, which extended from Africa to Asia until the twentieth century, prompted, even if inadvertently, a circulation of people and ideas who questioned the colonial project and who envisioned post-colonial futures. This paper analyses the solidarity relations developed between the nationalist movements in Mozambique and Timor-Leste, united by the struggle against the colonial project. During the occupation of Timor-Leste by Indonesia (1975-1999), the Portuguese-speaking African nations were important moral and material supporters of the East Timorese struggle for independence. Nevertheless, the histories of the encounters between the two peoples from 1975 onwards, marked by the Mozambique’s solidarity with the movement for Timor-Leste’s self-determination, are largely absent in the local and international historical production. Part of a contested chapter of the country’s history, the support by the first FRELIMO-led Mozambique government to the training of FRETILIN (East Timorese) cadres during their exile in the country, has been often at the centre of political competition between political parties in Timor-Leste, portrayed unfavourably, and even devalued in the context of the international solidarity movements with Timor-Leste’s self-determination. This paper will analyse the everyday experiences of East Timorese who lived in Mozambique in exile during the Indonesian occupation and Mozambicans engaged in setting up the solidarity networks, as a result of archival research and interviews conducted in 2018 and 2019.

This research is part of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie/Widening fellowship ‘Education as an instrument for liberation in Mozambique and Timor-Leste – histories of solidarity and contemporary reflections’, funded by the EU Horizon 2020

Dr Amy Rothschild, Department of Political Science, Ithaca College

Challenges of memoralisation. Remembering the Dead in Timor-Leste: Victims or Martyrs?

At least 102,800 Timorese were killed or otherwise died as a result of the 24-year Indonesian occupation of Timor and the preceding civil war. How have these individuals been remembered in Timor’s postindependence period? Timor’s truth commission, the CAVR, constructed Timor’s first official postindependence narrative of the Indonesian occupation. This narrative focused on past violations experienced by Timorese, framing the deceased in a human rights language of suffering victimhood. This narrative has since been largely displaced by a state-promoted narrative of the past focused on Timorese resistance to Indonesian rule. This narrative frames the deceased as heroes or martyrs of Timor’s struggle for independence. A language of suffering is replaced by a language of struggle and agency, with the deceased said to have intentionally sacrificed themselves for the nation and for independence. This paper compares and contrasts these two main frameworks through which the dead have been remembered in post-independence and considers the political implications of these narratives for the implementation of CAVR’s final recommendations.

Dr Kisho Tsuchiya, Department of History, National University of Singapore

Fernando Sylvan’s Changing Metageography from 1940s-70s: Ambiguity of the Literary Figure’s Sense of Belonging

East Timor historiography has emphasized the significant role of East Timorese nationalists, typically represented by Fretilin and later non-partisan struggle against Indonesia led by Xanana Gusmao. A remarkable Timorese/Portuguese poet and essayist, Fernando Sylvan has also been interpreted as part of such East Timorese nationalism. However, his earlier poems and essays from the 1940s to the 60s complicate such understanding of Sylvan’s works. One poem from the 40s demonstrates a shift in his sense of belonging from the Motherland/Timor to the Fatherland/ Portugal. Later in the 60s, he wrote as an embodiment of the multi-racial Portuguese community, and consciously promoted multi-racialism and multi-culturalism within pluri-continental Portugal. When he returned to the theme of Timor in the 70s, the “Motherland” he was writing about was more the “island of Timor” rather than Portuguese Timor, as he wrote, “from Kupang to Lautem.”  His ambiguity with Timor and Portugal as well as his familiarity with the “islands” (rather than national territory) are comparable to other Southeast Asian revolutionaries and post-colonial writers in the Pacific. Acknowledgement of such ambiguities and a longue durée factors (e.g. cultural structure, myth and geography) are necessary to understand how the East Timorese of his generation and the younger ones experienced the historical changes in Timor and the world more broadly.

Dr David Webster, Department of History, Bishop’s University

Landscapes of Development: Canadian development thought and Indonesian-occupied East Timor, 1975-99

Asia’s poorest country today is Timor-Leste (East Timor). Its development is heavily influenced by the historical legacies of Indonesian occupation, when scholars of development highlighted its landscape as a reason the country could never be economically viable, while independence activists stressed a history of agrarian self-reliance. Clashing images of the land shaped debates over the country’s political future. Canadian government interest concentrated on possible development work, but humanitarian debates were inevitably entangled with political struggle in both Timor and Ottawa.

Dr Vannessa Hearman, Indonesian Studies, Charles Darwin Unversity

Space, place and demographics: Coming of age in Dili during ‘Indonesian time’

Dili, now the capital of the independent republic of Timor-Leste has been imagined and written about by travellers, scholars and its residents over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries as alternately a vibrant, multicultural melting pot, a sleepy backwater and a shadowy world under the control of Indonesian soldiers and spies. This paper discusses how the Indonesian invasion created changes to Dili’s physical, spatial and demographic composition, and brought about new, shared spaces and experiences for the city’s population. Based on a case study of East Timorese youths who mounted a sea voyage to Australia in 1995 as part of a political mission abroad, the paper examines how the Indonesian occupation supported the rise of urban clandestine networks by creating a set of common experiences and conditions of life for a generation of children and youth in the fast changing urban landscape in Dili of the late 1970s to 1990s.

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