“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.” ― Ansel Adams
If there were a simple and practical way of time travelling around us today, then I would say that photography is one of it.
My first time encounter with David Palazon was back in 2013, at the office of the State Secretariat of Art and Culture (SSAC) in Villa Verde (today has moved to Praia dos Coqueiros Street), Dili, when I was working with UNESCO Art and Culture Programme as an administrative and programme assistant. At first sight, as a Timorese, I was a bit curious of David with his presence as a malae (foreigner in Tetum). Why does this malae willing to travel far away from Spain to Timor just to do all these fancy work of photography and all related stuff?
Before joining the UNESCO Art and Culture team, I used to think that art and culture is something fancy and has to be luxurious. But being introduced to David Palazon’s work as photographer and having the opportunity to witness his work with SSAC on the preservation programme of the tangible and intangible art and cultural heritage of Timor-Leste, made me realize the importance of art and culture documentation and preservation for Timor-Leste.
On doing his work of documenting the art and cultural events and objects in Timor-Leste through photography and videographical work, I saw that David’s passion and enthusiasm are painted in each of his work pieces. In gathering all these artistic and meaningful documentation, David also engaged the Timorese fellows in a collaborative work and together each of them express their messages on each photographical work they have produced on how rich the Timor-Leste art and culture is. From that time, I start to believe that Timor-Leste is indeed a wonderful land of art and culture and I would always admire it and appreciate it as a Timorese.
However, despite being Timorese and one can say being the owner of all this Timorese richness of art and culture heritage, a question rose in mind, how can we continue to value and preserve these heritage of art of culture? How can we share the beauty of this value of Timor-Leste art and culture to our fellow Timorese and to the world around us? As Timorese, we may already carry out the role of valuing and preserving by maintaining the continuous practice of the heritage. On the other hand, in the context of Timor-Leste’s fluctuating development progress, more effort is necessary to encourage the act of valuing and preserving the Timor-Leste art and culture. One of these efforts, as I would concern, is to have the documentation. As without it, we would lose some significant things in life.
Timor Runguranga is indeed has answered that concern of mine in a very artistic, satirical, mindful and yet heart-touching ways. When I received David’s invitation to attend the launching of the book in Timor Aid last year, I was kind of wondering, what exactly this photographical book would look like? The title word runguranga itself has caught my attention so much as it made think about messiness because runguranga as I understood it in Tetum, is everything related to messy and messiness. I had no idea why I pick up the book home only to keep it as collection and open a glimpse of it sometimes when I have a bit of free time. But once opening it, I start to promise myself that I have to go through the book and I did it at last.
After reading each page one by one, I laugh at myself on how I have underestimated this book. For me, looking at the pictures displayed inside it, has gave that sense of looking at the old family photo in a thick photo album. So nostalgic and emotional until you want to smile, laugh, frown and cry at the same time. Why? Because this book has captured how life has going on in Timor-Leste lately since its independence in 2000s. Within the decades, the runguranga essence that kept decorating the independence progress of Timor-Leste has brought us to learn many things as a new emerging country and that being runguranga has shaped us to grow along with the turmoil of the modern globalized world.
This book, being as a diary and memoir, has also capture the exchange of feelings as well as the exchange of collaboration between the insider and outsider who met in this small world of Timor-Leste and entwined them both in a world of rungurunga that only each of them can perceived when they were here. As some wise man has said; do not judge a book by its cover or do not judge people by its outer appearance then I would say do not judge a country if you have not been there. This book will confirm that saying with the collaborative work it displayed and the emotional sense each source person has shared.
This is why I found this book to be one of the inspiring photographic books I have ever seen. Apart of being a photo album, diary or memoir, this book, is also a fairytale storybook of Timor-Leste that one may share to their friends, family and children who would like to visit Timor-Leste or to see Timor-Leste in the past decades. I would also say that this book would be a collection of inspiration and motivation for me as a Timorese, to help advocate the art and culture preservation in Timor-Leste. As for the visitors who would like to know about Timor-Leste this book is very recommendable as an indirect tour guide.
To conclude, I would like to say that Timor Runguranga is the answer of my first impression quest to David himself which today I have called as maun (brother in Tetum) David, on why he is willing to travel from far-far- away land of Spain to Timor-Leste. By reflecting his Gulliverian journey throughout all territory of Timor-Leste in this book, I would call him ‘the male version of Alice in Wonderland’.
According to a local people I met, the word Debus mean lake in Mambae, a dialect spoken by people from Aileu. Seloi is a village in Aileu municipality, a municipality in the northwestern part of Timor-Leste and is one of only two landlocked districts, the other being Ermera. It borders Dili to the north, Manatuto to the east, Manufahi to the southeast, Ainaro to the south, Ermera to the west, and Liquiçá to the northwest. It was formerly part of the district of Dili but was split in the final years of Portuguese administration.
I had my first visit to this lake in 2013 during an office assignment. To get to this lake, one has to travel during one hour from Aileu Villa (Aileu city) with a four-wheel drive typed vehicle to reach this village. It takes around one and a half hour to reach Aileu from Dili. I did not go closely to the lake but I could only enjoy the view from the hill. Debus Seloi is a permanent lake that becomes the source of irrigation for rice fields and the vegetable field surrounding it.Looking at the Debus Seloi from the hill where I stand made me shiver with its serenity as the cold wind blowing slowly towards me. Aileu has a cold and fresh weather temperature.
A local people came nearby greeted me friendly and I greeted him as well. He then told me that every year prior to harvesting time, there is a communal traditional thanksgiving ceremony held in this lake. People in Seloi village mostly grow paddies, corns, and vegetables. Indeed these agricultural products become the supply for vegetable stocks in Dili, the capital city of Timor-Leste. A ceremony he told me has held annually as an act of gratitude towards the universe and the soul of deceased ancestors for the blessings on the crops for this year and the hope for best harvest for the coming years as well.
Prior to the ceremony, the head of each sub-village together with the Lianain (traditional village authority) in the Seloi villages will make coordination in order to discuss the materials needed for the ceremony and the contents of the ceremony programs. Within this coordination, an agreement will need to settle as well as the certain arrangement and task distributions to be made amongst the head of villages to organize their people to work for the preparation of the ceremony. On the agreement of the coordination, each head of villages arrange will animals such as buffaloes, chickens, goats or pigs to be sacrificed during the ceremony as an offer to the rituals. Later during the ceremony, the sacrificed animals will be handover to the community to be cooked and consumed during the ceremonial festivity. During this festivity and local men and women, adults and young people will be expected to participate in the ceremony as a compulsory social contribution.
Apart of the ceremony, there is a fishing race program held, where each representative from the sub-villages will participate and do the fishing in the lake as a symbol of gathering the lucky for the village. The more fish every fisher caught, the luckier the fisher would be and as well as his sub-village, the local villager told me. However, the fish that have been caught are not allowed to be taken to the home and should be returned back to the lake as the fish are considered by the Lianain as sacred entities and they are the spiritual owner of the lake who looks after the lake and maintains the water in the lake to continue available for the village.
During the ceremony, there will be dancing and singing in traditional ways such as Dahur (dancing and singing together in the group) and Tebe (rhythmical step dancing with traditional acoustic drum instruments called Babadok) where everyone can enjoy the festivity.