Organized Panel Session
During the politically contested years of Indonesian Occupation of East Timor from 1975 to 1999, FRETILIN was arguably the most important East Timorese nationalist organization. Against Indonesia’s justification of its rule through the claim that the Indonesians and the East Timorese are the “same people,” FRETILIN and its supporters abroad presented Timor as part of the South Pacific rather than that of Southeast Asia: Thereby, emphasized differences between the Indonesians and the Timorese.
The proposed paper complicates this picture by situating FRETILIN in the historiography of Southeast Asian resistance movements, and by comparing FRETILIN texts in several languages. It reinterprets historical sources in the mid-1970s to understand the organization’s struggle to formulate a language of East Timorese nationalists against competing spatial ideologies of “Timor as Portugal,” “Timor as Indonesia,” and “united Timor.” The majority of the inhabitants of Portuguese Timor in 1975, however, were not prepared to immediately understand the ideas of nation-states, territory, and even “East Timor.” The author thus argues that FRETILIN’s political language in Tetun (currently the official language of Timor-Leste), had to be very different from its presentation abroad. In Portuguese, FRETILIN adopted the contemporary language of radical Leftists and situated Timor in the South Pacific. In Tetun, however, the same organization utilized ideas related to worship of ancestors, amulets, holy mountains and natural spirits; communal identities based on consanguinity; and un-demarcated land conceptions of Timor (rather than “East Timor”), which resembled preceding Southeast Asian resistance movements.