Lorosae V Loromonu

During the crisis last year which nearly paralysed Timor-Leste, a couple of Tetum words became a prominent feature in many people's attempt to explain the root causes of that crisis. They are lorosae and loromonu, literally sunrise and sunset, meaning east and west respectively. Somehow Timor-Leste, already a half-island occupying the easter half of Timor with the rest forming part of Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara, became a country with two main ethnic rivals, the Easterners and the Westerners. Although as an East Timorese I have always been aware of this "division" and have often referred to those coming from the eastern half of Timor-Leste as an easterner and the other half as westerners, it never crossed my mind this dichotomy would one day translate into such a depth dividing the East Timorese into two ethnicities which is only as relevant as speaking about a Sydneysider and a Melbournian.

For me the use of the words lorosae/loromonu is no different to saying, Shinzo Abe and Manmohan Singh are Asians and Thabo Mbeki and Olusegun Obasanjo are Africans. The use of these tags has no connection with anyone's cultural or ethnic inherence. Actually if you lived in Dili, this lorosae/loromonu tags don't even apply to you, an interesting point which will help me explain how these words came to be used the way they are. It is arguable in my opinion that the Dili residents, to a large extent the Dili elites, are responsible for introducing the new meaning and use of the terms lorosae and loromonu.

But how did the East Timorese begin to employ these tags to label each other the way they do? I think the answer lays in the way Timor-Leste is shaped geographically. It is a long half island with Dili situated right at the centre. As we all know, Dili as the capital of Portuguese Timor was the centre of colonial and religious administration, trade, education, etc. People from all over Portuguese Timor would have flocked to Dili regularly to deal with each other as it was also the most central location in that half island. Although I would not attempt to guess what someone from Lospalos would call his brethren from Baucau to Maliana, I would suspect that to Dili residents it would not have been too difficult to refer to the outsiders in a most simplistic way. Those coming from east of Dili are lorosae or Easterners and those from west of Dil are loromonu, Westerners. To the east of Dili are the areas of Manatuto until Lospalos, to the west, the rest. So the east/west division took shape and became an essential part of Tetum vocabulary and of its use.

I don't know if there is any recognisable trait in the East Timorese population that would make it possible to describe someone as a typical lorosae or loromonu. Although if you speak to an East Timorese they would say that someone from Lospalos is typically tall, fair skinned, etc. In my experience this is nothing more than a popular myth. If you put two East Timorese together there is no way of knowing who is from where. In fact you wouldn't even be able to tell the difference between any two population from different islands in the Lesser Sunda. An East Timorese look no different from a West Timorese or a Florinese or a Wetarese. To add this is the fact that the East Timorese population has also taken on the genes imported from Portugal, Africa, India, China and Indonesia and lately Australians.

Linguistically, it is more relevant and will go on to contradict this supposed ethnic divide. The languages spoken in Timor-Leste is divided into two main language families, the Austronesian and the Papuan. The Papuan family includes the languages of Fataluco, Makasa'e, Makalero and Bunak of Lospalos, Baucau/Viqueque regions, Iliomar (a sub-district of Lospalos) and Bobonaro respectively. The rest of the languages belong to the Austronesian family. To the east of Dili you have Austronesian language speakers coexisting with the Papuan speakers side by side. In Baucau and Viqueque districts, there is a large population of Austronesian speakers (the Kawaimina languages and Tetum). In fact the main language in Viqueque is Tetum Terik of which Tetum Dili is derived from. To the west of Dili you have the Bunak speakers, a Papuan language enclave surrounded by Austronesian speakers.

So if there were to be any division at all like an ethnic division, the existing linguistic differences in Timor-Leste would present a more tangible point for which anyone can turn it into a rallying point. Maybe something like the Papuan speakers against the Austronesian speakers? But in Timor-Leste you just don't find any sign of any division of this kind. Bobonaro is a district made up of Kemak and Bunak speakers while Ermera is composed of Mambae and Kemak. Yet the Kemak speakers would say that they are either from Ermera or Bobonaro. The same goes for the Makasa'e speakers of Viqueque and Baucau. Therefore when we take a closer look into how the simple lorosae/loromonu tags could have caused such a deep crisis which threatened to plunge the country into an irreversible cycle of violence, it can only leave us with a conclusion that indeed this crisis has nothing to do with ethnicity. The cause is something else.

One other thing worth noting is also the fact that lorosae/loromony is not the only contrasting tags in circulation in Timor-Leste. If you speak to the Dili residents, in particular those who have always lived there until 1999, they would talk about the influx of ema foho into Dili. Dili residents regard themselves as ema Dili in contrast to ema foho, meaning those who come from the mountains. Ema foho connotes the traits supposedly associated with these mountain people such as being uncivilised, illiterate, backward, etc. Today's Dili residents admit privately that after 1999 events, as these ema foho settled in Dili, this town has degenerated. Many even suggest that the only solution would be to send them all back to their villages in foho (mountain, rural area). And of course another notorius one is the firaku/kaladi pair. But for this I will need to write a different entry altogether and hopefully soon.

In general almost every district or every linguistic region has their own tags which stereotype them. The Maubisse are known as fehukropa, the Tetum name for potato. Maybe this is due to the amount of potato grown in this place. But being called a potato is not a compliment however. Potatoes age grown by peasants who are perceived as illiterates, backward and uncivilised, so that to be associated with a potato is to be associated with these qualities. The Atsabe people are referred to as lipadois or smelly sarong. I don't know why. The Bobonaro people are called kudaulun or horse thieves. The Makasae people are known as masters, the Bahasa abbreviation for mahasiswa terminal meaning bus station university students. It is said that the Makasa'e youths tend to mill around at the bust terminals which also doubles as their "school." The Makassa'e people are also called muturabu. It is a Makasa'e word that describes anyone with violent tendency. Interestingly there is no such tag reserved for Dili residents.


Post a Comment


Copyright 2006| Blogger Templates by GeckoandFly modified and converted to Blogger Beta by Blogcrowds.
No part of the content or the blog may be reproduced without prior written permission.