Minka Nijhuis

The Legacy of Matebian

Een jaar op Oost-Timor

A year in East Timor

East Timor is one of the world’s most notorious trouble spots and has so complex an historical, social and political past that only a few people can reach solid conclusions about it. One of these is the journalist Minka Nijhuis who spent nearly a year in East Timor after the fall of President Suharto in 1998. The Legacy of Matebian is an exciting and highly personal report of her stay in the capital Dili and in the hinterland of the former Portuguese colony.

Conversations with ordinary people, political leaders, students, aid workers and un personnel, help Nijhuis to paint a vivid and penetrating picture of a people engaged in a courageous struggle for independence. In 1975, after the withdrawal of the Portuguese colonial forces, East Timor proclaimed its independence - to which the invasion by Indonesian troops put a sudden stop. It took twenty-three years before the Indonesian president Habibi agreed to hold a referendum on autonomy within Indonesia. But most of the people of East Timor rejected autonomy; they wanted independence.

Nijhuis’s report begins with the chaos that followed the referendum: vengeful Indonesian troops and militias laid waste to the island. Many Indonesians packed their bags, leaving the health service, education and the economy in tatters; while the headquarters of the United Nations was turned into a refugee camp, a tragedy that strengthened the clamour for international intervention. The role of the handful of reporters - Nijhuis included - who decided to remain on the island despite the precarious situation proved to be of crucial importance for the future of the island: a military force under Australian leadership was eventually despatched to East Timor.

Nijhuis discusses the forced migrations of people that took place in East Timor before the latest events, the families that were pulled apart, and the anger of the young, who realised that they had no future. She examines the role of the Roman Catholic church, and explains the great symbolic significance of Mount Mantebian, the ‘House of Souls’, which became a refuge for people driven from their homes and was renamed ‘The Mountain of Death’. All in all, Nijhuis paints a memorable picture of a country that had to pay a very high price for its freedom.

Minka Nijhuis has expertly combined events, conversations and background information into a constantly absorbing account. The result is a dramatic, sometimes hair-raising, story.

de Volkskrant

Minka Nijhuis maintains a high journalistic standard. She writes clearly, incisively and soberly.

Jury Report for The Daily Press Prize

With The Legacy of Matebian, Minka Nijhuis has written a gripping history of a country that took its fate into its own hands, only to discover that it does not know what to do with it.

Standaard der Letteren

Minka Nijhuis

Minka Nijhuis is an award-winning journalist for the Dutch daily Trouw, Vrij Nederland and for several radio stations. She has reported on conflicts in Cambodia, Burma, Kosovo, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. She is the author of two books on Burma (A Tea House in the Jungle, 1995 and Smuggled

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De erfenis van Matebian. Een jaar op Oost-Timor (2000). Non-fiction, 224 pages.



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