Friday 20 June 2014
Timor-Leste could be reasonably said to be a slightly ‘obscure’ travel destination. It’s a country that most people probably couldn’t find on a map, and probably wouldn’t notice even if they could. It’s not terribly big – about 15,000 square km, or just slightly bigger than Montenegro, or half the size of Belgium, or, for the Americans, about the size of Connecticut. Fairly inconsequential bearing in mind that its two nearest neighbours, Indonesia and Australia, are huge.
It has a slightly weird name. In English it’s called ‘East Timor’, the island it’s on being called Timor However, ‘Timor’ is the Indonesian word for ‘East’. Furthermore, ‘Leste’ is the Portuguese word for ‘East’. Thus in theory, the name of the country, regardless of language, translates as ‘East East’.
It’s also a relatively new country in principle, having officially been created as an independent state in 2002. However, it’s its history on that score that most interested me, and is the reason it was one of the first countries on my list when I was initially plotting the journey. And its two nearest neighbours mentioned above have a lot to do with it.
You might want to read this page for more information on this….
I spent today exploring this dark history of Timor-Leste, visiting two museums devoted to the fight for Independence. The first being the Resistance Museum, which takes you through the history of the struggle for Timorese independence in an easy-to-follow timeline. Most of the museum is fully labelled in English, and it goes into quite a lot of detail about the resistance movement and its leaders, and how they lived in holes on the mountainsides foraging what they could (and thus today, there is a distinct reverence for the mountains of East Timor).
The other site was the Chega! exhibition. Chega is Portuguese for ‘no more’, and the exhibition covers several rooms in what used to be a prison in Dili (like most other things in Dili, it’s not signposted and it took quite a deal of research to find it), and is now the centre of ‘CAVR’ – the Commission for Truth and Reconciliation that was set up to look at the crimes of the period (on both sides, though much more those by the Indonesians than by the Timorese) . The two museums cover more or less the same ground, but the Resistance museum looks at the whole concept, whilst the Chega! exhibition looks specifically at both the international reactions and the human rights abuses of the conflict.
Perhaps fittingly, it rained a bit today; I wasn’t expecting it to.