The Barlake War Marriage Exchanges Colonial Fantasies and the Production of East Timorese People in 1970s Dili20190902 77273 7x8oyd

The Barlake War Marriage Exchanges Colonial Fantasies and the Production of East Timorese People in 1970s Dili20190902 77273 7x8oyd
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  Chapter 11 THE BARLAKE   WAR MARRIAGE EXCHANGES, COLONIAL FANTASIES, AND THE PRODUCTION OF EAST TIMORESE PEOPLE IN 19 70s DILI Kelly Silva Introduction This chapter addresses a colonial controversy about marriage ex- change in 1970s Dili. Retrospectively called after the Portuguese ex- pression  guerra do barlaque   (barlake  war), this controversy came to be considered, by at least one of the actors involved, a foundational event of East Timorese nationalism (Araújo 2012) because it brought to the fore opposing positions about local social life. Not by chance, from the debate marriage exchanges emerged as the most iconic institution of local societies, and its meanings and effects were considered con- densed manifestations of the character of the East Timorese people.The military bulletin  A Província de Timor,  the newspaper  A Voz    de Timor,  and Seara,  the Dili Diocese Ecclesiastical bulletin were the local media in which the barlake  war gained public audience. AU of them were colonial media, published in Dili, led by editors more or less commited to Portuguese government institutions or projects. In one way or another, each of these media published news about what was going on in the wider world beyond Timor; reported on local issues, including religious and civil government practices; and offered criticai reviews on aspects and facts deemed typical of East Timorese societies (such as myths, rituais, institutions, etc.) (Paulino 2012, Fernandes 2014). Importantly, all these periodicals were directly (or indirectly, in  314  Kelly Silva the case of Seara ) under close political surveillance by the PIDE (International and State Defense Police), the political police of the Salazar regime. The barlake  war unfolded in two rounds, the first between the last months of 1969 and September 1970, the second between July and December 1973.The barlake  war was triggered by the publication of two literary pieces by Inácio de Moura, then a Portuguese civil servant in the col- ony. In these writings, the presentation for offering from wife-takers to wife-givers, so-called barlake,  in order to seal a marriage was pre- sented as a transaction that worked to comodify the bride, her feel- ings, and her subjectivity. This discourse of commodification was challenged by EastTimorese intellectuals who, in general, argued that barlake  was a very complex social process that could not be reduced to a commodity transaction.Practices and discourses on marriage exchanges have been criticai elements of the polities of custom in various colonial and postcolonial landscapes (Tonkinson 1982: 302; Filer 1985:163: Jolly andThomas 1992: 243-46: Thomas 1991, Keane 2007, Jolly 2015, among oth- ers). In colonial East Timor and elsewhere, missionaries, colonial administrators, and anthropologists have made various attempts to understand and/or control indigenous marital practices (Roque 2012, Fernandes 2014, Parise 2014; for an example of similar processes elsewhere, see Marksbury 19 9 3). In the context of Papua New Guinea, for instance, Jorgensen (1993) and Carrier (1993) have discussed the various configurations and transformations of bridewealth (locally referred to as brideprice) among the Telefolmin and Ponam people, re- spectively. Both authors demonstrated that bridewealth is a dependent variable whose shape has responded to complex phenomena derived from colonial encounter and missionization during the twentieth cen- tury. Graeber (2011: 131) notes thatby 1926, theLeague of Nations debated banning the practice on the grounds that it amounted to a form of slavery. British social anthropologists objected to the proposed ban, emphasizing the social meanings of such marital practices.1In the same decade, an important debate was underway in British social anthropology about the most appropriate word to describe marriage exchanges, considering their effects on sociality (Torday 1929; Driberg, Stoneham, and Cullen Young 1930; Evans-Pritchard 1931, among others). Later, scholars such as Lévi-Strauss (2003 [1949]), Goody (1973), among others, definitively set the consensus in anthropology, arguing that bridewealth is a social technology by means of which people negotiate rights in persons, identities, obligations, belonging, property transmission, power, and alliance relations, even  The  Barlake War  315 if it is sometimes translated as brideprice (Thomas 1991). Therefore, the barlake  war in East Timor constitutes one episode in a wider and long-term debate about how different collectivities organize their re- lations between animate and inanimate things in social life, a debate involving people from diverse srcins and fostered by various political and epistemological projects.The protagonists in the barlake  war were people with a very distinc- tive profile in 1970s Dili. Although they disagreed about the mean- ings and consequences of customary marriage in East Timor, all of them claimed to be recognized as intellectual voices. Nevertheless, they had different social srcins and trajectories. On the one hand, there were Portuguese-born agents—Inácio de Moura, Jaime Neves, and Luiz Filipe Thomaz—who nurtured a special interest in so-called "Timorese culture." All had served as offlcers of the Portuguese army when they first arrived in Timor; after their military Service, they engaged in civil activities, either in Dili or in Portugal. However, their similar Portuguese srcins and standing within the colonial administration did not imply similar positions on the barlake  war, as demonstrated later. On the other hand, a group comprising self-styled native intellectuals—including Abílio Araújo, Xavier do Amaral, and Nicolau dos Reis Lobato—could be distinguished.2The position these native intelectuais took on barlake  was to a considerable extent con- sistent with that of professional social anthropologists in the 1930s. Although srcinally from different parts of the country, all belonged to high-status houses in their home districts and received Western edu- cation in missionary institutions. Nicolau Lobato and Xavier do Amaral met at the Catholic Seminary of Soibada, where an important part of the East Timor upper classes was educated since the seminary’s foundation in 1898. Abílio Araújo, in turn, studied at the Salesian School in Lahane, and then at the High-School Francisco Machado in Dili; in 1971, he went to Lisbon to study economics. After fmishing their studies, all three engaged in different jobs and activities within the Portuguese colonial administration in Timor.3By 1974, after the Carnation Revolution in Portugal, they became active participants in the political events leading to the formation of political parties in Dili and to East Timorese struggle for independence. Xavier do Amaral was one of the founders of ASDT—Associação Social Democrata Ti- morense, later to become Fretilin—Frente Revolucionária de Timor- Leste Independente. Abílio Araújo was also a founding member of Fretilin: he drew up its first political program and manual and, during the brief 1975 Fretilin government, he became the first minister for economic and social affairs. Nicolau Lobato was the prime minister of   316  Kelly Silva the same government and, afterward, a prominent guerilla leader, un- til his death in 1978 at the hands of Indonesian soldiers. In the same brief context of 1975, Xavier do Amaral became the first president of the República Democrática de Timor-Leste.The East Timorese actors in the debate were Christian-educated and linguistically qualiíied in the Portuguese language. In this liminal position, they could act as mediators between the Portuguese and Timorese worlds. Moreover, the fact that Araújo, Amaral, and Lobato were also recognized as so-called assimilated    (assimilados ) during the barlake  war deserves attention. Established by themiddle of the 1950s, the category assimilado  was srcinally an offlcial colonial category of citizenship to be “bestowed only" upon individuais with an indigenous cultural background who were considered (after strict evaluation) to have achieved a high degree of integration into the Portuguese cultural world. This category was applied to “natives” who did not fol- low local indigenous customs ( costumes ); had converted to Catholic Christianity; had received European education; spoke Portuguese; had a job, some possessions, or financial means to ensure their sur- vival. In other words, assimilados  were those who most successfully internalized a Western way of life and cosmology, in contrast to  pagan  native people. When the barlake  war began in the 1970s, however, this citizenship status was no longer used in offlcial State administra- tion. Nevertheless, I believe the category and the social meanings it entailed were still signfflcant in social life. For instance, the fact that Araújo, Amaral, and Lobato were widely acknowledged as assimilados  gave them a special social authority to wage the barlake  war almost on equal footing to the Portuguese officials. As assimilados,  they could be perceived to be in possession of intellectuai capacities similar to Europeans.My approach to this colonial debate is inspired by ethnographic field research about marriage exchange, which I had been pursuing in Dili between 2008 and 2013. In addition to analyzing the current composition and social dynamics of marriage prestations, I was inter- ested in understanding how they relate to a wider debate about the reproduction and government of customary practices in East Timor in the context of nation-building. As I argue elsewhere (Silva and Simião 2012), the colonial and postcolonial debates about customary practices provide important insights into the processes of social change and modernization in East Timor and other places. At the same time, analysis of these debates may unveil tensions, challenges, and contention structuring the making and unmaking of modernity, as Stoler (2002) has proposed. I argue that the transfer of wealth  The  Barlake War  317 from wife-takers to wife-givers to arrange marriages has long been a main source of anxiety and tension in colonial and postcolonial gov- ernance because itcalls into question key moral ideais and ontological perspectives upon which modern processes of subject formation are grounded. Customary marriage systems reveal another way to organize the relations between persons and things, very different from the opposing trend that marks certain Western cosmologies. Such institution allows for a certain symmetry between people and things, once valuables are offered in return for a bride. Such transactions have often been understood by outsiders as the purchase of a woman. Moreover, the dynamics of marriage prestations in social reproduc- tion challenge the ideology of romantic individualism that feeds certain Euro-American expectations about marriage.It was also in the course of my fieldwork in Dili that I came into contact with colonial writings on the topic of barlake.  Some of my local interiocutors, who had grown up during the Portuguese period or who had been in close contact with institutional settings (such as the Catholic Church) that valued former Portuguese culture, frequently urged me to go back to earlier colonial literature. I was thus encour- aged to read the works by Father Jorge Barros Duarte, Alberto Osório de Castro, and those of other colonial authors in order to understand what was at stake in marriage exchanges in the present. These in- struetions to penetrate the colonial archive led me to look closer into colonial literature. In effect, my interiocutors’ advice is an indicator of the power and persistence of colonial knowledge in shaping represen- tations of local practices, at least among formally educated Timorese people in Dili. In addition, it suggests that current controversies about barlake  in Dili are struetured by long-running anthropologicai fractures, involving government agents and local intelligentsia, and whose roots possibly date at least back to the 1970s. Knowledge disputes, moreover, are often intrinsically political, especially in a colonial setting (like 1960s-70s Dili) in which East Timorese nationalism was nascent. Thus it is no surprise that the controversies on barlake  that took place in the 1970s came later to be understood as criticai events in the rise of East Timorese nationalism.The Dili-based controversy, I argue, was a form of epistemolog- ical and political project from which particular images of the East Timorese people and their sociality derived. When transfers of wealth at marriage wereportrayed as a commodity exchange that materially benefited the bride's relatives, they were characterized as a “barbaric" practice that reflected the "barbaric" character of those who per- formed it. However, when the offering of valuables from wife-takers
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