Protecting cultural knowledge

I got to meet again with the Ministry of Culture’s representative in Lospalos at the Cultural Festival in Dili and I took the opportunity to remind him of my interest in studying some of the traditional music of the Lospalos area. However, he surprised me by saying it actually required special permission from someone high up in the Ministry and that I had to write a letter to request permission. I wasn’t clear if this permission was necessary because music is part of protected, privileged, cultural information, or because he was planning to teach me things as part of his standard working day and so needed to check with his boss that this was okay. Also, the person – his boss – I apparently needed to ask permission of was standing right beside him, so I would have loved to just ask her then and there. But I sensed it wasn’t supposed to be done that way.

Here is part of the letter I wrote:

I would feel incredibly privileged to have this opportunity. My artist residency is for my own musical development as well as for the skills and ideas I can bring with me to share with people in Timor-Leste. It would be an honour for me to have time studying this instrument, with the help of experienced performers, and would be a very special kind of cultural exchange.

Later on, when I told Mana Er about this exchange she shook her head in surprise and patted me on the hand. ‘I don’t think he remembers you,” she said kindly. In other words, he thought I was just some mad foreign stranger cornering him at a festival and saying I wanted to learn the Kakalo’uta. No wonder he grabbed at an excuse!

Then again, another colleague reckons he was trying to look good in front of his boss, to look like he was doing his job very consciously. “That letter thing is just ridiculous,” she posited. “The Chief of the Ministry of Culture has far more important things to worry about.”

Who knows? I have written the letter now. One week later, no reply so far. We shall see what eventuates. And this is a picture of the instrument I am most keen to learn:

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