East Timor: Abe Barreto Soares’ Poetry for Nation Building
By Global Voices Online • on August 28, 2009
“The role of a writer is to collect the fossils of reality scattered around, then ornament them on the wall of our history”
In the previous post of this series, while celebrating the 10th anniversary of the referendum in East Timor, we presented the way in which the international community stood up in support of the freedom of the Timorese people. In this piece we interview Timorese writer Abe Barreto Soares in order to disseminate Timorese Nationalism seen through the Eyes of its Poets, the essay that he has recently published [tet, pt].
As a blogger since 2007, Abe (or his cyber-pseudonym, Jenuvem Eurito, as he was called by his friends in his youth) shares his words and thoughts in four languages often analysing literary work relevant for the self determination of his country. Moreover, Abe discusses thoroughly the construction of a national conscience after the fight for independence.
Taking advantage of the benefits of blogs to foster global connections and distance conversations in original ways, he describes his blogs as “sweet words, caring words, in a venue for people to talk to each other, sharing with each other on “what” and “how” life goes in the world”.
But Abe’s words and actions have not always been this free, as he stated during the Indonesian occupation of Timorese territory.
I felt like my hands and mouth were tied. I couldn’t say what I felt about East Timor.
Global Voices Online (GVO): Where were you 10 years ago? Can you tell us a bit about your life?
Abe Barreto Soares (ABS): During the time of the referendum, I was overseas. I happened to be in Portugal at the time. Along with other Timorese compatriots, I cast my vote in Lisbon.
I left Timor-Leste in 1985 to pursue my university studies, taking English as my major at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Then, I left for Canada to take part in a cultural exchange program in early September 1991. On November 12 1991 the [Santa Cruz] massacre occurred when I was about to finish my program. Being concerned for my personal safety if I was to return to Indonesia, I finally decided to stay in Canada, and seek political asylum. I spent 7 years in Canada, campaigning for a free and independent Timor-Leste through diplomacy and cultural activities (using music as a tool to alert the outside world to what was really going on in the country). I had the chance to spend a year and a half in Portugal from Spring 1998 until the Fall of 1999. Then, I went to Macau for journalistic training with a Portuguese news agency, Lusa, for six months (October 1999 until March 2000). I returned to Timor-Leste in July 2000. Since then, I have been working in UN missions in Timor-Leste both as an information assistant and a translator/ interpreter.
GVO: How did you have access to Timorese literature during the Indonesian times?
ABS: During the Indonesian times, while doing my studies in Yogyakarta, I came across books on Timor-Leste such as “EasTimor: Nationalism and Colonialism” by Jill Jollife, a fellow journalist, from Australia. From this book I discovered the late Timorese poet, Francisco Borja da Costa. One of the lines of his poetry appearing in the book: “smother my revolts/ with the point of your bayonet/ torture my body/in the chains of your empire/ subjugate my soul/ in the faith of your religion…/” really fired the sense of nationalism within me. And through the book “Funu: The Unfinished Saga of East Timor” by José Ramos-Horta (current President of the Republic of Timor-Leste) I discovered Fernando Sylvan.
Pedem-me um minuto de silencio pelos mortos mauberes.
Respondo que nem por um minuto me calarei.
They ask me one minute of silence for maubere deaths.
I answer that not for one minute shall I shut up.
GVO: You often quote Timorese poet Fernando Sylvan. In what ways do you take advantage of poetry in order not to shut up, as he recommends in the above poem?
ABS: A poet is a spokesperson of his or her era. He or she should break the silence when it comes to oppression. Living on this planet, we are in a constant battle between the dark and the light. A poet should be at the forefront, carrying the torch. He or she is the “warrior of the light”. (I borrow this concept from Paulo Coelho, the Brazilian writer).
[As an artist I have to be ready any time to engage in the spiritual war. Words are my swords. Hopefully, my words will provoke people so that they can be in tune with themselves all the time in creating harmony in this wonderful planet.]
Notes from a Musafir 48
GVO: Do your blogs in four different languages reflect the way people communicate in Timor?
ABS: Timorese like me have to be creative in taking advantage of the ‘blessing’ of colonialism and globalization. Aside from using my own mother tongue, Tetum and my father’s mother tongue, Galole which I am good at, I also use English and Indonesian in my literary carrier. I am proud of using them to communicate what I think and feel. I would love, someday soon, to create a Portuguese blog as well.
GVO: Why have you created a Korespondensia Literaria (Literary Correspondence, tet) category on one of your blogs?
ABS: I created the “korrespondensia literaria” entry on my Tetum blog in an attempt to convey to the outside readers the correspondence I have had with my fellow literary friends through SMS. Practically speaking, transferring them onto a blog can be considered as a way to save those messages. As a man of letters I need to engage in a constant communication with friends the world over. I want to learn a lot from them. I want to commune the philosophy of Greenpeace, “think globally, and act locally”.
[SMS:] ITA-BOOT NIA BATINA/ha’u moras todan: ha’u klamar terus/fó lisensa mai ha’u-ata atu kaer Ita-Boot nia batina/fakar mós Ita-Boot nia mina oliveira domin nian mai ha’u-ata/ hodi nune’e ha’u bele di’ak filafali ho lalais// [21:51:11//11-2-2009]
1.R. D. = “Se mak bulak ida ne’e?” [maisumenus tuku 10 kalan]
2.Suzana TP = “Diak pois há’u haruka ba suli hanesan tasi” [22:08:53//11-2-2009]
3.Atoi R. = “Obrigado maibé ha’u la kompriende” [22:18:00//11-2-2009]
4.Pe. Olá = “Sajak ne’e tau nia titulu, Jesus. Bele atrai liu” [11:55:12//12-2-2009]
5.F.Nascimento = “We matan mos, we liman diak, halo suli mai, fakar mos mai, ami iha lerek susar no terus laran. Tan Ita Boot, ami Nain deit. Laran luak tebes no kmanek wain basuk.”[12:56:05//12-2-2009]
[SMS:] YOUR ROBE/I am really sick: my soul suffers/ permit me to hold Your robe/Shower me with the fragrance of Your olive oil/ So that I will recover again//[21:51:11//11-2-2009]
a. R.D. = Who the hell is this? [around 10 PM]
b. Suzana TP= OK, I will then send back to you, flowing like a sea [22:08:53//11-2-2009]
c. Atoi R = Thank you, but I do not understand. [22:18:00//11-2-2009]
d. Father Ola = The title of the poem should be “Jesus”. Then it will be more attractive. [11:55:12//12-2-2009]
e. F. Nascimento = The eyes of the water are opened,/the hands of the water are good./Make them flow, and shower them on us/ We are in pain and suffering/ You are the only Lord of ours/ You are really the One having a good heart and a great joy
Sonhos dos Poetas Loucos
Lia-na’in sira-nia mehi hatutan no lolo liman ba malu
Lia-na’in sira-nia mehi bidu no tebe hadulas mundu rai klaran
Lia-na’in sira-nia mehi fanun ha’u,
no ema lubun maka sei toba dukur
The Dreams of Crazy Poets
The dreams of poets are carried on, and they extend their hands to each other
The dreams of poets bidu* and tebe**
circling around the Planet Earth
The dreams of poets wake me up
As well as the crowd who are still soundly sleeping
* dance performed by men
** dance performed by both men and women holding hands in circle