[TimorLesteStudies] Canberra Times Book: Naldo Rei. Moving Story Of An E. Timor Child of Occupation

angie.bexley at anu.edu.au angie.bexley at anu.edu.au
Sun Apr 13 09:03:16 EST 2008

> To: east-timor at lists.riseup.net
>  Date: Sat, 12 Apr 2008 07:58:07 -0400
> Subject: CT Book: Moving Story Of An E. Timor Child of Occupation
> The Canberra Times
>  Saturday, April 12, 2008
>  Moving story of a child of occupation
>  By Angie Bexley and Fiona Crockford
>  Naldo Rei's memoir is a moving testimony to the sacrifices endured by East Timorese during the struggle for independence from Indonesian military occupation. It is only the second literary work by an East Timorese author to be published in English in the post-occupation period. The first was The Crossing, a beautifully crafted account of exile and belonging written by Luis Cardoso. Cardoso was part of a cohort of relatively privileged, lusophone-oriented youth brought up under the former Portuguese colonial administration and educated in Catholic seminaries. (His contemporaries included a number of future political leaders, among them the former resistance leader and current Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao.) Cardoso received a scholarship to study in Lisbon just prior to the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975. That cataclysmic event left him unable to return home for 24 years. These two seminal works thus reflect vastly different generational experiences and personal trajectories.
>  Born in 1975, Rei is a child of occupation. His book sheds light on the experience of a generation of youth socialised into a culture of resistance and secrecy. Through the lens of his personal odyssey, which takes him from occupied East Timor via Jakarta to exile in Australia and back to an independent East Timor, we come to understand how formative experiences of routine violence affected the politicisation of that generation. We learn of the devastating effects of war and displacement on family structures: how childhoods were radically foreshortened and how youthful needs and ambitions were, inevitably, subordinated to the struggle.
>  Rei's early life is marked by post-invasion chaos and the flight of thousands of Timorese refugees into the mountains to evade capture by Indonesian forces; their subsequent internment and subjection to intense surveillance techniques and intimidation. A defining moment is the murder of his father by Indonesian forces. That critical event ''turned me, a young child into a soldier and resistance fighter. Justice for my father and my land, and anger at the oppression we endured constantly, were fuel for the fire in my belly.''
>  From that point, his identity as a resistance fighter is fixed. Rei is recruited into the clandestine movement as a special courier, a role that requires the precarious shadow play of a double life. It also entails an unquestioning loyalty to an authoritarian and hierarchical chain of command, to which the young boy readily submits. He is repeatedly arrested, interrogated and tortured by the Indonesian military. These traumatic experiences only serve to reinforce his patriotism and he acquires a reputation for being ''unbreakable''.
>  His endurance seems remarkable, yet the consequence of surviving such extreme physical and psychological assaults is a kind of depersonalisation and emotional distance. Bereft of familial support and succour from a young age, he finds a sense of community and fraternal love among his comrades within the resistance network. Drawn into an intense, hyper- masculine and hyper-vigilant world of counter- insurgency and subterfuge, Rei is ''enthralled'' by the folkloric charisma and mystique of the key resistance (and father) figures he is instructed to protect.
>  The heroic, and somewhat romanticised, image of the archetypal guerrilla fighter becomes central to Rei's identity: he grows his hair long as an assertion of difference to the Indonesian army crew-cut. The culture of resistance inevitably shapes his relationships with women. Strict codes of conduct precluded romantic attachments and, while the author coyly insists he had neither the interest nor energy for such things, he is clearly not immune to the attentions of young women, nor unaware of his own self-image as an ''exotic outlaw''.
>  While the memory of his father's murder drives his patriotism, it is his connection with surrogate mothers that provides Rei with the emotional closeness he lacks. Thematically, the feminised sanctuary space these women represent provides a counter to the masculinist warrior culture, and partially compensates for the self-abnegation that commitment to the struggle demands.
>  Exile brings a profound shift in Rei's moral framework and sense of self. On the run in Jakarta, he is reliant upon the support of Indonesian pro-democracy activists and solidarity groups with whom he works closely: these encounters fundamentally challenge his hardline assumptions toward Indonesia as the stereotyped enemy. Despite the incredible hardship and frustration he endures there, he remains crucially involved in the world of strategic activism.
>  Relocation to Australia, by contrast, is experienced as profoundly disempowering. He struggles with culture shock, financial hardship, language difficulties and a sense of existential limbo. When liberation finally comes, Rei returns to East Timor to document the independence celebrations. Yet following the initial vertigo of freedom, there is a collective loss of momentum and focus.
>  Rei's generation are faced with the challenge of how to reconcile with the past and reconstruct themselves as postcolonial subjects. His book is testament to their suffering. It raises fundamental questions about the role of patriarchal power in the construction of a warrior culture. Reflecting on the legacies of his resistance childhood, he writes ''children should not be soldiers; I feel I missed out on childhood and can never get it back.''
>  While exceptionally well-written, Rei's narrative is self-conscious and restrained and it does not have the lyrical quality and gentle, self- deprecating humour of Cardoso's The Crossing. But his story is an important contribution to Timor's nascent national literature that will certainly inspire others to write their own.
>  Angie Bexley and Fiona Crockford are researching East Timorese youth identities at the ANU.
>  ------------------------------------------
>               Joyo Indonesia News Service
>               ==== ========= ==== =======

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