Subject: On East and West from Andrew McWilliam


Dear All

Some notes and comments on the elusive question of firaku and kaladi divisions that have come to prominence in the latest turmoil in Timor Leste and which provide a part response to Bob Boughton’s enquiry.

A good source of information available on the subject of Firaku / Kaladi rivalries is Dionisio Babo Soares’ Phd thesis 2003. Dionisio is currently the co-chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission established with Indonesia. His thesis is entitled ‘Branching from the Trunk: East Timorese Perceptions of Nationalism in Transition (ANU), and he devotes a whole chapter to the question of Firaku / Kaladi.

Drawing on his chapter some summary points include the following

• The distinction is one that purports to highlight a division between easterners (lorosae ­‘ sunrise’) [firaku], and westerners (loromunu ­‘ sunset’) [Kaladi] within East Timor. The origins of the terms are obscure but people make a popular distinction between ‘talkative and excitable firaku, and taciturn, closed kaladi. The distinction arises from Portuguese colonial times.

• Folk etymologies for the term firaku include the idea that the word comes from Portuguese vira o cu (to turn one’s backside to the speaker) implying the rebellious independent nature of ‘easterners’. This has been subsequently modified to its present form. Alternatively another common idea is that the term comes from the Macassae language of Baucau ­ Fi (we, us) raku (relatives, family) - often glossed as friend. Similarly Caladi may be derived from Portuguese calado (quiet, reserved) or Keladi (Malay for Taro) grown by Mambai, Kemak and Bunak communities in the central western highlands.

• The division is conventionally associated with the following districts ­ firaku Lautem, Baucau, Viqueque and Manatuto: while Kaladi are linked to Dili, Ailieu, Ainaro, Same, Ermera, Bobonaro, Suai, Likisa and OeCussi.

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• While the origins of the rivalry between the two groups are obscure ­ and indeed there is no history of any former pattern of indigenous political division along these lines, Dionisio Babo Soares makes the significant point that that the source of conflict may have emerged after the Second World War when Macassae people from Baucau (easterners) and Bunak people from the western highlands settled in Dili and began trading in a local market. Over time commercial rivalries arose around this distinction which continued and evolved over the decades into a kind of default cultural division that is now being evoked in the current struggles.

• During the UNTAET period there were frequent brawls and conflicts between rival ethno-linguistic groups in Dili based around the firaku / kaladi division. Reprisals and periodic street fighting occurred between Mambai and Bunak youth gangs against similar Macassae (esp. Laga), Viqueque and Los Palos residents. As people moved into Dili following 1999 and took up residence, the firaku / kaladi distinction became associated with different areas of the city. So ­ Delta Comoro where many groups from the east settled was known as a firaku area, along with Quintal Boot in Central Dili. Bairo Pte and Bebonuk in the west of Dili were linked to Kaladi. Other areas had mixed populations and conflicts sometimes coalesced around this distinction (e.g Becora).

• A key contemporary source of conflict between the two groupings is the perceived role of the different groups during the resistance struggle against Indonesia. Firaku groups have antagonised the kaladi with their claims to have ‘won the war’ through their sustained armed resistance in the east ­ Lautem for example, retained an armed presence in the forests right up until September 1999. From this perspective the kaladi are seen to have folded in the face of Indonesian army control, and they are also charged with being more responsible for the rise of the army backed militia’s that terrorized the population in the lead up and subsequent to the 1999 ballot. The worst militia’s and the principal leadership were associated with Aitarak (Dili), Besi Merah Putih (Likisa), Laksaur (Suai) and Mahidi (Ainaro). Militia groups also operated in the east but caused much less damage. Kaladi, naturally reject this view but it serves as a point of antagonism and competing claims over relative sacrifice and suffering for independence

• The current crisis has been attributed to a sharpening of these differences within the defence forces, with some 500 soldiers abandoning their post in March and complaining of discrimination by higher ranking firaku leadership of the FDTL. However there is also a view that this distinction serves primarily as an excuse for expressing disaffection and frustration at the lack of economic benefits and opportunities flowing from Independence and the current political order. The involvement of angry unemployed youth in Dili and their rampaging is more likely to stem from their marginalisation in the economic and political process than any historical allegiance to geographical differences.

• While firaku and kaladi alliances may also have been utilized in the recent murderous confrontation between the army and the police there is also a view that the key distinction is one between older loyalists to the government and disaffected younger factions seeking a change of the guard with the possibility that murkier political manoeuvring may be involved.

• In summary the firaku and kaladi distinction is one that is widely recognized in Timor Leste and provides a potent source of factional or community rivalry around by all manner of grievances can be added and expressed.




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