Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Another visit to Balibo

Damien Kingsbury and Rae Perry visited Balibo on 24 and 25 February, meeting with Rogerio Goncalves of the Balibo Flag House Committee of Management, and others in the town. Despite numerous trips to Timor-Leste, it was Rae's first visit to Balibo since 30 August 1999, when Rae visited as an observer with the Australian Parliamentary delegation to the 'popular consultation', otherwise known as the vote of self-determination which allowed East Timor to finally achieve independence.

This visit focused primarily on discussions around the possibility of establishing the house in the old Portuguese fort as a home-stay for visitors, given there is no accommodation in Balibo at this time. The idea of establishing a home-stay in the fort house has been favorably received by the government of Timor-Leste, although there are numerous issues to sort through before this can become a real possibility. Damien also talked with locals about issues of language, which were raised in his last visit.

The regional linguistic patchwork of the sub-district includes the (Austronesian - Malayo-Polynesian, similar structure to Malay) Tetum Terik (original Tetum) being spoken at Cova, near the Indonesian border, Tetum Praca (Market Tetum) at Batu Gade, and Tetum Praca and some Tetum Terik as well as (Austronesian) Kemak being spoken in and around Balibo. About seven kilometres south of Balibo, next to the Indonesian border, the people of the village of Leohitu speak Becais (which they call Welaun). Becais is aalso an Austronesian language, of about 3,000 speakers and which is related to, but distinct from, Kemak.

Across the Bebai River, the villages of Leolima and Nunara speak Kemak, while in the sub-district of Maliana the languages of Tetum Maliana (a minor variation of Tetum Praca), Kemak and (the Trans-Papuan) Bunak are spoken. However, within the trading town of Maliana itself, Indonesian remains dominant: ‘It is the language of business’, said one local resident. Near Maliana, the border villages of Tapo Memo, Sebura, Holsa and Oromau all speak Bunak.

Beyond this linguistically inclined visit, there has been discussion with the Balibo House Trust about the type of arrangement that might exist between it and the Friends of Balibo. The Trust was undergoing a reorganisation at the time of writing, and it was hoped that following that reorganisation, a formal, cooperative arrangement would be established.