asakiyume: (Timor-Leste nia bandiera)
[personal profile] asakiyume
A bit back I posted about spirits that live in geodes in Timor-Leste. Here's a real-life example people interacting with the spirits. It sounds like something from an old folktale--only it's from 1994. I came across it in the memoir A Woman of Independence, by Kirsty Sword Gusmão. She, you may recall, is the wife of Xanana Gusmão, the current prime minister of Timor-Leste. In 1994 Xanana was in prison in Indonesia, and Kirsty was his English teacher and liaison. They were communicating only by letters, and Xanana sent Kirsty this letter, regarding a photo she had been given to send to him, of a boy in an orphanage, a boy Kirsty had been told was Xanana's son.

Xanana wrote to her,

He is the son of one of my best commanders who headed up a guerrilla company in the eastern part of the island. He had capture more than a hundred weapons from the enemy and was one of the greatest commanders of operations in the history of Falintil [the name of the armed resistance]. He died in combat . . . because of his son.

You may already have heard that, in the heart of Falintil, there are those who bear amulets. Some of these amulets are 'lulik' [sacred, meaning here, sacred spirits] which are central to the belief systems and faith of my people. There are many kinds of amulets with different rules attached. A common rule concerned relationships with women. This particular commander received from his own lulik a kind of protection against bullets. It permitted him to get married, but on the condition that his wife did not bear him a son. His first child was a daughter. He was punished with a serious wound. When his wife gave birth to a second child and his soldiers came to know that the baby was a boy, they all cried. They all knew that their commander will die because his substitute had been born. It was the rule, the relentless rule of our beliefs which modern standards classify as 'superstition.'

At that time I was on Matebian mountain. He died near Loré in an ambush he laid on the road between Loré and Los Palos. In recognition of his feats which had contributed hugely to our military resistance, I wrote to Father Locatelli at Fatumaka College, asking for help. And so one day, at night, guerrillas from another military unit near Baucau brought the boy to the priest. Since then, he was known as my son as I gave to him my name.

Kirsty Sword Gusmão, A Woman of Independence (Sydney: Pan Macmillan Australia, 2003), 84–86.

This story entrances me, the story itself, most of all, but also the way Xanana shared it with Kirsty. It's a delicate thing, explaining about beliefs. The world is a complicated place, and how people live in it is different in more than just material ways. Some people experience a world that's thick with spirits, others a world with very few, others a world with none at all.

More on the book when I finish it--I'm nearly done.

Date: 2014-01-30 02:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It gives me the shivers. (In a good shivery kind of way.)

Date: 2014-01-30 03:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
What's so amazing to me is that this is real--this is real life, as lived and experienced.

Date: 2014-01-30 03:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
So much emotion without being dramatic. Wow. Powerful.

Date: 2014-01-30 04:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yeah, you can really feel the emotion.

Date: 2014-01-30 03:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Believe me, there are no greater believers in the power of the supernatural than soldiers. They need all the help they can get!

Date: 2014-01-30 04:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

Date: 2014-01-31 03:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Two minds running in a parallel track: story brain likes the specificity of the spirit involved. Rest of me realizes that this is real belief of real people who really fought and died for independence and that magic can flow backwards through time from effect to cause.

Date: 2014-01-31 10:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes, I was feeling/thinking parallel things. I had a realization that I can't express well (I tried it on Waka), which went something like this: We make up stories in which there's magic, and magic is used for, or has effect on, important things--but this is happening in real life. But I get tangled up making that sentence, because it either looks like suddenly I too am a believer (and as for my belief state, let's just say it's one huge Heizenberg Uncertainty, or that I can believe contradictory things at once: everyday skeptical me would not believe this sort of thing, but everyday me also does believe the things that friends or people I respect tell me, and this falls in the latter category) OR (remember that's only part one of this giant statement) it seems somehow condescending to the belief in question--even the fact of calling it magic. So, yeah, I want then to correct the statement, because I feel no condescension, just a kind of awe and respect. And then that in turn makes me ponder all kinds of things in news reporting, and in how we call some things religious beliefs and other things superstitions and other things stories.

Date: 2014-01-31 07:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
A relentless tule indeed. But I wonder what happened to the boy's mother, and how she felt about her son being adopted, if she was still alive.

Date: 2014-01-31 11:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I do wonder about that too. A lot of people entrusted children to orphanages when they couldn't take care of them, and in some cases later came back and got them later, when they were more secure. Actually, I sat next to a woman on the airplane from Darwin to Dili for whom that was true--her mother had put her in an orphanage because she couldn't afford to feed and look after her--and the girl had gone on to get an education and was now living and working in Australia, but going home for visits and things, including to her mother and her home village.

So, one possibility is that the boy is back with his mother. Or, it's also possible she herself died. Another thing I wonder is how much connection Xanana maintains with this boy, and what the nature of it is.

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