[Easttimorstudies] On East and West from Andrew McWilliam

Jennifer Drysdale jenster at cres10.anu.edu.au
Fri May 26 18:06:03 EST 2006

Andrew.Mcwilliam at anu.edu.au

Dear All

Some notes and comments on the elusive question 
of firaku and kaladi divisions that have come to 
prominence in the latest turmoil in Timor Leste 
and which provide a part response to Bob Boughton’s enquiry.

A good  source of information available on the 
subject of Firaku / Kaladi rivalries is Dionisio 
Babo Soares’ Phd thesis 2003. Dionisio is 
currently the co-chair of the Truth and 
Reconciliation Commission established with 
Indonesia. His thesis is entitled ‘Branching from 
the Trunk: East Timorese Perceptions of 
Nationalism in Transition (ANU), and he devotes a 
whole chapter to the question of Firaku / Kaladi.

Drawing on his chapter some summary points include the following

•           The distinction is one that purports 
to highlight a division between easterners 
(lorosae –‘ sunrise’) [firaku], and westerners 
(loromunu –‘ sunset’) [Kaladi] within East Timor. 
The origins of the terms are obscure but people 
make a popular distinction between ‘talkative and 
excitable firaku, and taciturn, closed kaladi. 
The distinction arises from Portuguese colonial times.

•           Folk etymologies for the term firaku 
include the idea that the word comes from 
Portuguese vira o cu (to turn one’s backside to 
the speaker) implying the rebellious independent 
nature of ‘easterners’. This has been 
subsequently modified to its present form. 
Alternatively another common idea is that the 
term comes from the Macassae language of Baucau – 
Fi (we, us) raku (relatives, family)  - often 
glossed as friend.  Similarly Caladi may be 
derived from Portuguese calado (quiet, reserved) 
or Keladi (Malay for Taro) grown by Mambai, Kemak 
and Bunak communities in the central western highlands.

•           The division is conventionally 
associated with the following districts – 
firaku   Lautem, Baucau, Viqueque and Manatuto: 
while Kaladi are linked to Dili, Ailieu, Ainaro, 
Same, Ermera, Bobonaro, Suai, Likisa and OeCussi.

•           While the origins of the rivalry 
between the two groups are obscure – and indeed 
there is no history of any former pattern of 
indigenous political division along these lines, 
Dionisio Babo Soares makes the significant point 
that that the source of conflict may have emerged 
after the Second World War when Macassae people 
from Baucau (easterners) and Bunak people from 
the western highlands settled in Dili and began 
trading in a local market. Over time commercial 
rivalries arose around this distinction which 
continued and evolved over the decades into a 
kind of default cultural division that is now 
being evoked in the current struggles.

•           During the UNTAET period there were 
frequent brawls and conflicts between rival 
ethno-linguistic groups in Dili based around the 
firaku / kaladi division. Reprisals and periodic 
street fighting occurred between Mambai and Bunak 
youth gangs against similar Macassae (esp. Laga), 
Viqueque and Los Palos residents.  As people 
moved into Dili following 1999 and took up 
residence, the firaku / kaladi distinction became 
associated with different areas of the city. So – 
Delta Comoro where many groups from the east 
settled was known as a firaku area, along with 
Quintal Boot in Central Dili. Bairo Pte and 
Bebonuk in the west of Dili were linked to 
Kaladi.  Other areas had mixed populations and 
conflicts sometimes coalesced around this distinction (e.g Becora).

•           A key contemporary source of conflict 
between the two groupings is the perceived role 
of the different groups during the resistance 
struggle against Indonesia. Firaku groups have 
antagonised the kaladi with their claims to have 
‘won the war’ through their sustained armed 
resistance in the east – Lautem for example, 
retained an armed presence in the forests right 
up until September 1999.  From this perspective 
the kaladi are seen to have folded in the face of 
Indonesian army control, and they are also 
charged with being more responsible for the rise 
of the army backed militia’s that terrorized the 
population in the lead up and subsequent to the 
1999 ballot. The worst militia’s and the 
principal leadership were associated with Aitarak 
(Dili), Besi Merah Putih (Likisa), Laksaur (Suai) 
and Mahidi (Ainaro).  Militia groups also 
operated in the east but caused much less damage. 
Kaladi, naturally reject this view but it serves 
as a point of antagonism and competing claims 
over relative sacrifice and suffering for independence

•           The current crisis has been 
attributed to a sharpening of these differences 
within the defence forces, with some 500 soldiers 
abandoning their post in March and complaining of 
discrimination by higher ranking firaku 
leadership of the FDTL. However there is also a 
view that this distinction serves primarily as an 
excuse for expressing disaffection and 
frustration at the lack of economic benefits and 
opportunities flowing from Independence and the 
current political order. The involvement of angry 
unemployed youth in Dili and their rampaging is 
more likely to stem from their marginalisation in 
the economic and political process than any 
historical allegiance to geographical differences.

•           While firaku and kaladi alliances may 
also have been utilized in the recent murderous 
confrontation between the army and the police 
there is also a view that the key distinction is 
one between older loyalists to the government and 
disaffected younger factions seeking a change of 
the guard with the possibility that murkier 
political manoeuvring may be involved.

•           In summary the firaku and kaladi 
distinction is one that is widely recognized in 
Timor Leste and provides a potent source of 
factional or community rivalry around by all 
manner of grievances can be added and expressed.



Please consider the environment before printing this email
Jenny Drysdale
PhD Student/Environment Officer
Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies
Australian National University (ANU)
Room 4.13, 4th Floor
WK Hancock Building [43]
Biology Place
Canberra   ACT   0200

Mobile 0407 230 772
Phone 02 6125 1651
Fax 02 6125 0757
Email Jennifer.Drysdale at anu.edu.au
Website http://cres.anu.edu.au/~jenster

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