Back in Dili – errands and a cultural festival

Tuesday, day 47

I’m writing this in Lospalos actually, but I’ll summarise the last week that I have just spent in Dili. Mum was there with me so I had company as I went about my errands

There were a few tasks and interesting things to complete: voting at the Australian Embassy for the forthcoming state election; going back to the house in Comoro for a visit and to collect some household things  (where I got to say hello to some of the children I used to sing and play music games with, back in those early first days in Dili, when I was going to language classes in the morning and playing clarinet on the verandah throughout the rainy afternoons); visiting the UN Human Rights people in Dili to follow up interest in my Baucau project; writing and emailing a funding proposal to the UN; visiting the Truth and Reconciliation Museum; sussing out ptions for hire cars (this was hot and tiring work – lots of taxis to various sites and wandering around in the heat of the day); and shopping for various things I needed to take with me to Lospalos that you can’t get anywhere by Dili. Like cans of chick peas, for example.

But the week was very much shaped by the “Cultural Festival” that was on at the Presidential Palace from 25th-28th November, closing on Timor-Leste’s Independence Day. This Festival brought musicians, dancers and traditional craftsmen to Dili to perform and craft their particular articles, as onlookers moved around the site.

I loved the performances I saw. On my second day there, I was present for one of the Instrument Demonstration sessions. I saw four sets of performers from around the country. The audience gathered around, seated on floor cushions or standing up, and watched the demonstrations with great engagement. Most of the audience were in fact Festival participants from the different districts. There aren’t many opportunities for them to see the cultural traditions from different districts and watching them watch each other was for me one of the great bonus delights of the Festival.

The crafts on display were also fascinating. There was a man carving ornamental birds from buffalo horn. There were two men working together to make wooden bowls from lumps of wood. There were women with weaving looms and tais (traditional woven fabrics) for sale. There were women weaving baskets, and selling these in all shapes, sizes and colours. There was a goldsmith, creating tiny pieces of jewellery with his traditional tools (my friend ordered two gold rings from him, one for each of her daughters. He engraved their initials on the rings, and they looked superb when we collected them the next day). There were men from Oecussi, the East Timorese enclave that is marooned in the middle of Indonesian West Timor (you either travel there overland, or get there by ferry, once a week), who were making small metal bells in a fireplace, which then were strung onto strands separated by narrow macaroni-seized pieces of bamboo, and then wound around the ankles as a percussive accompaniment to dance. These are called kini-kini, and I bought two sets. Hopefully I’ll be able to use them in my projects.

The Festival was the first of its kind. It took a couple of days to find its feet – the scheduled performances didn’t exactly happen to schedule, so it was a bit hit-and-miss what you got to see during a visit. The location was beautiful – the lawn of the President’s Palace has many thatched-roof traditional huts and shelters, and these housed the various displays, adorned with large banners of photographs from around the country. However, both Saturday and Sunday were hit by extremely heavy rains in the afternoon, which drenched the site and caused the road outside to flood. This impacted on some of the dance performances that were supposed to happen on the paved areas – basically, they didn’t happen.

I loved the conversations I fell into with some of the performers. I got to try a wind instrument made of bamboo (it is from Baucau and is apparently called a fahi kua-kua – fahi means ‘pig’ and kua-kua is an onamatopeic word for the sound the pig makes) that you play by putting the mouthpiece completely in your mouth and putting your tongue into the top of the tube. It only has three holes but they are quite far apart so you need the fingers of two hands to play them. I also was invited to join in with a group of women from Vicqueque playing their traditional local drums – small, skinny goblet-shaped drums with a surprisingly resonant sound. You tuck the drum under your arm to play it.

However, the place to be on Independence Day evening was at the Godbless concert in the heart of Dili. Godbless is a very popular Indonesian band (does that seem odd to anyone else – an Indonesian band being the headline artists at the main government-sponsored Timorese Independence Day celebrations??) and a large stage with stadium lighting had been erected in the plaza in from of the Government Palace building.

The crowds were satisfyingly huge. People of all ages were there – but Timor Leste is a young person’s country with a significant proportion of its population under the age of 18, and so they were in a clear majority at this concert.

The Timorese aren’t great clappers. I gather that applause isn’t really something they do, culturally. It must make it difficult for a rock band to have its audience be so quiet and restrained. As the guy making the introduction tried to rev up the crowd before the band came on, there were a few whoops and cheers, and a decent burst of applause, but it all subsided pretty quickly. By the time the Dire Straits-ian long guitar and drum atmospheric intro solos (with accompanying requisite stadium light displays) had subsided, any applause and cheers were long over. There was a group of hard-core fans who made a mosh pit in front of the stage and did their best to make up vocally for the silent majority, but it was a pretty tough crowd to play to overall, I’d say.

I have already been warned that I should try and strategically prime and place some ‘lead clappers’ if applause is going to be needed in any of my project performances! The Godbless concert confirmed this for me.

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2 comments so far

  1. timothyjonesiswriting on

    Gillian, this blog is really interesting. I have placed a taster of a couple of paragraphs oon my modest blog, hoping that my friends and colleagues will follow your fascinating stay in Timor. Thanks for the email, Timothy
    http://interculturaldialogueandeducation.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/gillian-howells-reflections-on-music-education-artistic-practice-and-collaborative-projects/


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