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.