Timor-Leste, a small country located in Southeast Asia that once ruled by Portuguese for some hundreds of years and then occupied by Indonesia during 24 years. It is the a country where a majority of population is Catholic and Catholic church is one of most influencing institution in the country. Being a Catholic religion follower is to comply and attend the relevant ceremonies held such as Sunday morning mass and other festivities celebrated through the mass. It has became a custom for the Catholic followers to attend the mass and to many other Timorese people, the religion itself is seen as the identity while they also continue to keep the traditional cultural beliefs in the believing power of Uma Lulik (Sacred House) and the blessings of the ancestors. The cultural belief and the faith compliance to the religion has been assimilated well.
With the Corona Virus Pandemic affecting the world due to it is easy to spread among people, the Government of Timor-Leste has applied mandatory lock-down to all the territory after one positive case was confirmed in late March and the church also has been requested to suspend all religious activities and gatherings a week before the lock-down. The suspension of the religious activities, in particular for catholic church goers however is seen as an unexpected change in the religious customs as it stopped them to not attending the mass as usual as people are required to stay home, limit the movement, to do physical and social distancing and to maintain hygiene. In social media like Facebook, there was a video of local man protesting church to not suspend the mass ceremonies and there were others who posted how they missed the ambience of the Sunday mass.
Today in Catholic religion is the celebration of Palm Sunday. It is the Sunday before Easter that begins the Holy Week. Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of the Lent commemorating the triumphant arrival of Christ in Jerusalem. In the Gospels, Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a young donkey, and to the lavish praise of the townspeople who threw clothes, or possibly palms or small branches, in front of him as a sign of homage. This was a customary practice for people of great respect. Palm branches are widely recognized symbol of peace and victory and has been used on Palm Sunday as the symbol for the commemoration.
As I saw that there is the longing from many Catholic fellows to attend the palm Sunday mass, following are some of the pictures of Sunday mass shots I took in Baucau from 2015 to cure the longing.
Ho pandemia virus Corona ka COVID-19 ne’ebe oras ne’e ejiji ema hotu tenki hela iha uma, mantein hijiene no halo distansia fiziku no sosial muda tebes ita nia lalaok moris loron bainleet nian. Iha Timor-Leste mos aplika ona Estadu Emerjensia ka Lockdown hodi limita sidadaun ida-idak nia direitu ba movimentu no atividade sosial sira.
Jeralmente, sosiedade Timoroan sei fo reajen ba mudansa ne’e ho laran-husu oinsa mak pandemia bele muda sosiedade nia moris sai oinseluk hodi kria limitasaun hanesan ne’e? Iha loron bainleet ita hare’e ema lao ba mai ho livre, joven sira tuur iha estrada laliga rai, ema halibur malu iha uma hodi halo atividade oioin. Oras ne’e lalaok sira ne’e menus ona ka ita sei la haree durante tempu Estadu emerjensia.
Fotografia hirak tuir mai maski husi tinan lima ka neen ba kotuk mai ha’u sai fali hanesan pedasu nostaljia lalaok moris loron bainleet hirak ne’ebe ita halao ka haree molok pandemia COVID-19.
Khalil Gibran, the famous Lebanon poet was waiting for me in a kiosk across the roundabout street of Villa-Nova city in Baucau. I saw him through his cover, a tightly wrapped book in plastic yet it is dusty because the cars and motorbike were passed by throwing its dusty greeting.
With some notes of Dollars I left for the kiosk owner, I brought Gibran home with me, barely knowing him. Together, we rode the microlete and look at each other with hidden smile trying to avoid the questioned look of other people in the microlete. I guess Gibran might be another storyteller I would spend my long night with in silence.
It’s 8 pm at home. I finished my dinner. The dishes are done. I knew I was ready to join Mr. Gibran in my bedroom.
“Good evening Mr. Gibran” I said while opening the plastic wrap off him. It felt like uncovering the veil of the bride for the first time. How awkward yet exciting to get to know him page by page before the first page. His title. Secrets of the Heart .
“So you are a poet Mr. Gibran,” I said and keep reading him through the page. Reading every line of the verses. I completely lost in every words of him.
“Mr. Gibran, how could words transformed in such They are hypnotically romantic and ironic at the same time. a magical way that it could touch the mind and soul? Even God becomes closer to you in words.”
“Poetry is not an opinion expressed. It is a song that rises from a bleeding wound or a smiling mouth,” Gibran said in smile.
That night we end up sailing in the ocean of poetry.
I first time came to Maliana city in 2013 for a field and the beautiful view of the municipality was my bonus to enjoy. Today, Bobonaro is the municipality though it was formerly one of the district. The word is a Portuguese modified word of the Tetun language word Bobonaru (or Buburnaru), which means “tall eucalypt”. Geographically, the municipality located at the southwest of the country and has the Savu Sea to the north of Bobonaro, the municipality of Liquiçá to the northeast, Ermera to the east, Ainaro to the southeast, and Cova-Lima to the south. To the west lies the Indonesian province Nusa Tenggara Timur. Batugade is where the portal of the border with Indonesia is located and many Timorese usually travel to West Timor through this border. Sometimes, dolphins appeared around the beach of Batugade. Bekais, Kemak and Bunak are main dialects with Indonesia and Tetun are widely understood. Agriculture activity is productive sector in this municipality which is known for its high local rice plantation and also the local restaurant also serve the local rice to its consumers which is quite unique thing in this municipality. Entering the municipality, I was intrigued to see Balibo, a spot area where the incident of killing of Australian journalists group happened during early Indonesian occupation 1975 and the incident is popularly known as Balibo Five. Other popular spot to visit is Natural Hot Spring in Marobo (which I did not able to make) and Maliana also has interesting cultural local context to discover. It took four to five hours trip to reach Maliana from Dili with car or public bus.
11. Ermera- Ermera Municipality
Ermera is one of the closer municipality to Dili located in the west-central part of the country. It is regarded as the coffee producer municipality in Timor-Leste due to its major production and plantation of coffee which has been available in Ermera since Portuguese time. My first touch with this municipality was on my field trip to Railaco and Gleno, two post administrative to reach before entering the Ermera city. Departing from Dili, one has to pass by Liquica municipality before reaching Ermera. The word Ermera according local folktale means ‘red water’ in Mambae language. It is one of land-locked municipalities in East Timor with Aileu. It borders Liquiçá to the north, Dili to the northeast, Alieu to the east, Ainaro to the southeast, and Bobonaro to the west. Mambae is the main dialect with Tetun and Indonesia are widely understood. The road today is curvy and well paved from Tibar to Gleno. One can definitely made a one day trip to Gleno and enjoy the lush green trees along the way and seeing the coffee plantations when passing by the Railaco street. Ermera has 5 post administrative such as Ermera, Atsabe, Hatulia, Letefoho and Railaco. There are many unexposed tourism site in Ermera and local cultures and traditions are also interesting to discover. It took 1 to 2 hour day trip with car or public bus from Dili to Ermera.
12. Liquiça – Liquiça Municipality
As one of the closest municipality to Dili, Liquiça has become the one popular destination to visit for a one day trip from Dili. It is located on the northern coast of East Timor, and borders the municipalities of Dili to the east, Aileu to the Southeast, Ermera to the south, and Bobonaro to the southwest. To the northwest with Savu Sea. What I noticed most about this municipality is the beaches and its black sand along the way from Dili. The popular beaches in this municipality is Maubara beach with the former Portuguese Fort, the Black Rock beach and Lauhata beach. Maubara has many significant historical documentaries since Portuguese time and during 1999 crisis to be explored and retold by the local people. Aipelu prison is one of popular spot to see the remarks of Portuguese presence in the past. Some people loves to do diving in its beaches. Along with beaches, one can also purchase souvenirs from the local vendors in Maubara. Tokodede is the main dialect with Indonesia and Tetum language are widely understood. It takes 20 to 30 minutes to reach Liquiça from Dili with personal vehicle or public one. The municipality has three post administrative: Bazartete, Maubara and Liquiça.
13. Oecusse – Administrative Region of Oecusse Ambeno
Oecusse is an enclave of Timor Leste located in Nusa Tenggara Timur province in Indonesia. As a coastal exclave, it located in the western part of the island of Timor. Oecusse is also popular with name Oecusse-Ambeno which are the names of the two original kingdoms existed before the colonial period. Oecusse also became the historical remarks of first Portuguese presence to Timor-Leste for sandalwood trade and this add more significant historical documentary for this municipality to be explored. The local cultural context also owns a unique patterns that add diversity to Timorese cultural heritage. When came here for the first time, what caught my eyes most was the beautiful sparkling blue beaches, the sharp-look mountains and its serenity in the city. Today one can travel to Oecusse by land and pass by Indonesian border in Atambua, by sea with Ferry (costs $8 USD per person) and by air with ZEEMS flight that cost $65 to $75 USD per seat from Dili. Oecusse today becomes the special administrtaion region in Timor-Leste and infrastructure are actively developed in the city of Pante Makassar. The municipality has 4 post administratives; Pante Makassar, Nitibe, Oesilo and Passabe. Baikenu is the local main dialect with Indonesian and Tetun language are widely understood.
There are still a lot to tell about how beautiful, unique and interesting from each of this municipalities.Somehow, mostly the road conditions today are under construction especially to eastern zone thus add difficulty to do a road trip to some of these municipalities. However, I believe there will be time when the conditions change and more exploration could be carried out to each of this municipalities.
The word Ainaro is a derivative from the Mambae expression ai naru means ‘tall tree’. Ainaro municipality located in southwest part of the country, generally regarded as the coldest municipality in Timor-Leste due to it is located uphill and close to mount Ramelau, the tallest mountain in Timor-Leste. Ainaro is also known for its fertile land that actively produce vegetables, beans, flowers and coffee production by its farmers. My first time visit to Ainaro in 2018 last was realized during my return trip from Covalima to Dili. Along the way is full of green scenery view, landscape full of green hills, mountainous views, grass field and serene house along the street in Ainaro villa town. The city also has many Portuguese and Indonesian historical building remarks. Mambae is also one of main dialect spoken widely with Tetun and Indonesian language are widely understood. The municipalities also has interesting pattern of cultural traditions and historical places to explore especially as it becomes one of historical shelter during Timor-Leste resistant combatants during struggle of independence. The municipality has 4 post-administrative which are Ainaro vila, Hato-udo, Hato-builico and Maubisse. It took 3 to 4 hours to reach Ainaro from Dili and one has to pass by Aileu municipality beforehand.
8. Same -Manufahi Municipality
I first time visited this municipality in 2017 on a field trip and mesmerized by the beautiful scenery along the way there. Curvy roads, high steep hills, serene city, fresh cold air. Same is the capital of the municipality and the municipality name Manufahi according to local tales was modified version of the original word in Mambae ‘Maun Fahe‘ means brothers went apart according to local tale that once upon a time there were 5 brother who have to parting ways from their home. What fascinated me most about Same city is the story of Don Boaventura, a local king and regarded by most as hero for his resistance movement during The Great Rebelllion in 1910-1912 against Portuguese colonialism. The statue of Dom Boaventura located in a village named Luak, 20 minutes away from Same city. The city has interesting cultural and historical context to explore with local people. Mambae is also one of main dialect spoken widely with Tetun and Indonesian language are widely understood. The municipality has 4 post-administrative which are Same, Fatuberliu, Alas and Turiscai. It took around 8 to reach Same city from Dili and one will pass by Aileu municipality and Maubisse post-administrative of Aileu beforehand.
9. Suai – Covalima Municipality
On my first visit to Suai city, I was very excited and intrigued to figure out the city and in particular to see the local chapel where the 1999 Black September massacre happened. It was one of the horrific story of massacre happened to Timorese civilians during the announcement of result of East Timor referendum in 1999. On my arrival, I rushed to see this place first and accompanied by a local guide from the hotel I stayed in. It is an old rustic chapel and some of the windows have been broken but inside was still functional to be used by local people to held catholic church activities. It was in this church that during the civil unrest, local people came to evacuate to this chapel that located uphill guided by four priests (three Timorese and one Indonesia priest) trying to protect them but local the militias came and shooting the civilians including the priests and burnt the chapel. Though the chapel was then renovated, its rustic look and serenity inside tells a lot of untold memories. Suai is one of post-administrative of Covalima Municipality and this municipality located in southwest part of the country.
The municipality borders the Timor Sea to the south, the municipality of Bobonaro to the north, Ainaro to the east, and the Indonesian province of Nusa Tenggara Timur to the west. Suai city located in coastal area and the weather is hot during the dry season. However, the Suai Loro beach was nearby and is beautiful to visit with precaution not to bath at the beach or go closer as there are warning of crocodile existence around the water. The sea around Suai is southern sea regarded by Timorese as Tasi Mane means male sea due its loud and resonance sea). The municipality has interesting cultural diversities in its tradition, local arts and beliefs.
The municipality has 6 post-administratives consisted of Fatululic, Fatumean, Fohorem, Zumalai, Maucatar, Suai, and Tilomar. Tetun Terik, Kemak and Bunak are main dialect while Tetun and Indonesia are also widely uunderstood. Cova Lima municipality also regarded as the furthest municipality to reach from Dili as one has to pass by the curvy road of Aileu and Ainaro to reach Suai city during eight to nine hours trip with car or public trasnport from Dili. Nowaday, one can reach Suai city with ZEEMS flight (a CESSNA type plane) which costs $ 41 to $51 USD flies once a day from Monday to Saturday from Dili with duration of around 35 minutes. Suai has got a new airport build and planned to accommodate the petroleum and gas mining research and activity there.