[TimorLesteStudies] Opinion piece Canberra Times: Steven Sengstock: Reinado to live on as vivid figure in Timor folklore

Bu Wilson Bu.Wilson at anu.edu.au
Mon Mar 17 09:37:43 EST 2008

Reinado to live on as vivid figure in Timor folklore
Steven Sengstock
Canberra Times 17 March 2008

Amonth has passed since the death of Alfredo Reinado in a fire-fight at the
home of East Timor's President Jose Ramos Horta. There has been no backlash
from his supporters and in the past week many rebel soldiers have
surrendered peacefully.

Nevertheless, the power Reinado might wield over the populace in death
should not be underestimated. Reinado's many admirers helped him remain at
large for almost two years, and it was they who helped him to appear
suddenly and unexpectedly at Ramos Horta's front door. They are the
volatile, disenfranchised mass of East Timorese society who feel they can
find neither voice nor representation in either the new Government of Xanana
Gusmao or Mari Alkatiri's Fretilin opposition.

They are the young Timorese who, before Reinado's death, would draw you
close and whisper, "Did you know Alfredo has very strong connections with
the people of Manufahi? They say he's blessed with the spirit of Dom

Boaventura was the king, or liurai, of the Manufahi region in the rugged
hills south of Dili. He died almost 100 years ago but his tenacious spirit
lives on. He is the man many see as the father of East Timorese nationalism.
In Timor there is an almost Arthurian sense of legend and mythology attached
to his name. He is remembered as the archetypal Timorese warrior king in a
country where archetypes rarely emerge from a complex cultural and
ethno-linguistic puzzle.

Last year, just days before international troops launched their abortive
attack on Reinado's hideout in the hills above the town of Same in Manufahi,
rumours fanned out across the country that Reinado had been involved in a
rare ritual ceremony. During the ceremony, presided over by Manufahi elders
and described by some as a coronation, Reinado was said to have been endowed
with the late Boaventura's supernatural powers.

Late in 1911, Boaventura had united many of East Timor's indigenous kingdoms
in revolt against the repressive and exploitative Portuguese colonial
administration. Employing guerrilla tactics akin to those used by Xanana
Gusmao in the struggle against the Indonesian Army 70 years later, at one
stage Boaventura came close to overrunning Dili. But the military odds were
against him and ultimately he was forced back into the remote hills around

His resistance came to a dramatic and tragic end in August 1912. Surrounded
and besieged on a mountain top, Boaventura led a courageous breakout. On
horseback at the head of his warriors he plummeted towards Portuguese lines
in a charge that one awestruck historian described as "a great avalanche
down the side of the mountain". The warrior king escaped, but most of his
estimated three thousand followers did not. They were rounded up by the
colonial forces and systematically slaughtered over two nights and two days
of concentrated killing.

Boaventura led a people suffering the exploitation of a colonial
administration whose true authority projected little outside of Dili.
Reinado, too, claimed to represent a growing population of youth and common
folk disillusioned with a Government struggling to extend its judicial and
administrative reach beyond the same city limits. And just as Boaventura
relied on the support of influential kingdoms in central and western East
Timor, Reinado and his men, too, moved freely about the same regions.

Boaventura enjoyed far less support in the east of the country, and Reinado
could not venture there for fear of death. Both were known for their daring
escapes and, as legend would have it, were impervious to the bullets of

Nonetheless, Reinado's early 2007 attempt to draw parallels between his
plight and that of Boaventura invited heavy criticism. Pointing to Reinado's
part-Portuguese heritage, some said he was trying to appropriate a heroism
and history that was not rightfully his.

Others judged it a cynical manipulation of sacred traditional beliefs and
memories with the objective of winning over an ill-informed and vulnerable
support base.

In fact, for many in East Timor, there will be little to lament in the
passing of the fast-talking, handsome rebel leader. From the chaos of East
Timor's crisis of mid-2006, the former military police major emerged as a
serious embarrassment to East Timor's Government and the international
forces it had invited to stabilise the country. By the time of his death
Reinado had destroyed his relationships with almost all political factions,
his notoriety growing with each of his anti-establishment stunts and daring

The innocent villagers who suffered from Reinado's destabilising presence in
the mountainous interior will also have little to lament. Even in the
western districts where Reinado was most popular, the arrogance and
heavy-handedness of his men drew frequent complaints. His rebellion placed
an incalculable burden on the East Timor economy, causing fear-induced
delays to development projects and distracting officials from the crucial
mission of rebuilding the conflict-riven nation.

Boaventura's ultimate fate has never been established. The colonial record
has him facing court proceedings in the years after his rebellion but has
nothing clear to say about his death. Nor did foreign bullets bring Reinado
down. By all accounts his escape from last year's assault on his base in the
interior city of Same was nothing short of miraculous and, in the end, it
was a Timorese bodyguard and Timorese bullets that killed him.

Ultimately, only in death may Reinado find a true parallel with the warrior
king. Just as the name Boaventura is revered in far more corners of the
country today than he could have hoped for in his day, so the spectre has
now appeared of a Reinado who, despite his failings, may live even more
vividly in popular memory than he ever did in real life.

Steven Sengstock is a Masters candidate researching the history of East
Timor in the Faculty of Asian Studies, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.

Bu Wilson
Regulatory  Institutions Network (RegNet) 
College of Asia and the Pacific, RSPAS
Australian National University 
Canberra   ACT   0200 

T: 02 6125 3194 
F: 02 6125 1507
M: 0407 087 086 
E: Bu.Wilson at anu.edu.au


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