Kraras: The land of widows through the lens of A Guerra de Beatriz

Ivo Mateus Goncalves[1]

When the first time I heard about A Guerra de Beatriz and read through the banner and advertisement that sprung up in the main road and slum dweller of Dili, one thing that crossed over into my mind was ‘it might be a piece of documentary movie, or short story about war and peace’ to cite Leo Tolstoy great novel therefore, not really attract my attention. There has been endless debate about the movie ever since, thus really intrigued me to know more. After collecting few articles and opinion that has been published by international news paper as well as the update news letter regarding every progress of the making of the movie from the crew website, and I decided to watch the movie with my own eyes. When the movie end, I really consoled myself that it is a great work that I, we and Timorese in general have been waiting for.

There has been lots of movie feature that described the Pol Pot’s cruelty and genocide in Cambodia, mass pogrom in Rwanda, and ethnic cleansing in Balkan. But very few that has been filming about East-Timor, it does not mean that I am totally ignore or deny some documentary movie on human rights violation which taken place in East-Timor during Indonesian military occupation and in the aftermath of popular consultation which really placed the ‘Land of crocodile’ in the world’s map. I have been watching another movie on East-Timor tragedy such as ‘answer by fire’, but A Guerra de Beatriz presenting before us one of the biggest massacre against unarmed civilian in an remote area and both local and international media did not notice anything on the barbaric killing, due to the political censorship that put into effect by the occupation regime, makes our hearts thump and our hair stand on end.

The setting was in the village of Kraras located in the District of Viqueque on the south coast. In 1983 there was a ceasefire agreement between Falintil that lead by Xanana Gusmao and Indonesian armed force which represented by Colonel Gatot Purwanto in the village of Lariguto Sub-district of Venilale (Baucau. A series of political negotiation was taken place between Xanana Gusmao and Indonesia appointed governor in East-Timor, Mario Viegas Carrascalao before lead to the agreement. Both parties agree that Falintil will move freely and back and forth in the site that has been agreed upon, as well as receive medical treatment, visiting their families and organize friendly match with the common people. The agreement applied to every territory in Timor-Leste.

Both parties have their own hidden agenda, Indonesia military really wanted to use the ceasefire to explore the Falintil strength. On the other hand Falintil force that has been suffered from serious casualties due to the lost of almost 80% of his leaders and soldiers—has a plan to reorganize their force that still scattered around in some part of East-Timor, and establish the link of underground movement.

But the ceasefire was last longer when Benny Moerdani was appointed as new commander of Indonesian armed force to succeed General Yusuf. Moerdani unilaterally broke the ceasefire, launching a new military offensive, which so called Operasi Persatuan (Operation Unity). He threatened: ‘this time, no fooling around. We are going to hit them without mercy.’ Unfortunately, Murdani’s role is rarely mentioned in the movie instead of Prabowo Subianto, former Indonesian dictator Soeharto son in law.

In responds to the Moerdani’s statement, in August 1983, the ceasefire broke in the eastern town of Kraras, after a unit of East Timorese Hansip (Pertahanan Sipil our civilian auxiliary) members, together with Falintil fighters, killed 12 Indonesian soldiers. The Indonesian military responded with a series of massacre of local civilians and a crackdown in the eastern region.

Killing, arrested, tortured and mass grave was common feature immediately after the massacre. At another scene of the movie, Sumitro (Jojo Sarmento) ordered the unarmed civilian split up themselves between men and women. He then asked the men, young and older as well as teenage to lining up, the soldiers opened fire into the crowd and killed all of them. This feature are really in common with the real tragedy, according to the legitimate source about 200 hundred people were burned alive in their homes. Indonesian troops then carried out a ‘clean sweep’ operation around the village of Bibleu, as a result of which 500 people were killed on the bank of the river. Ever since, Kraras was well known as the ‘The land of the widows.’ An eyewitness account described that ‘the soldier opened his mouth, showing his teeth with a smile, and said a sentence which was regarded to be part of the wisdom of Java. He said: ‘When you clean your field, don’t you kill all the snakes, the small and large alike?’.

A piece of historical sequence that has been described in above passage is composed in A Guerra de Beatriz. A brilliant epic of love and heroic struggle, betrayal, sacrifice and the rise and fall of the independence movement. Sense of self sacrifice to the loves one was well represented by Celestino dos Anjos (Falintil fighter), bravado and faithful—in the epoch of unfaithfulness—was embodied through Beatriz herself, wisdom and restraint was expressed really well by Tereza.

The long voyage from Kraras to the ‘new promise land’ by Indonesian military at Lalerek Mutin after the massacre was another scene that missed in A Guerra de Beatriz. According to many sources, the long journey from Kraras to Lalerek Mutin caused many death tolls; the number was even higher than in Kraras when pogrom was taken place.

While intrauterine devices compete with bombs and machine-gun salvos to arrest the growth of the Vietnamese population, in Lalerek Mutin (the new settlement) it is more hygienic and effective to kill guerrilleros in the womb then in the mountains or the village. Various military doctors have sterilized thousands of women in Lalerek Mutin, although this is the least populated habitable zone in Viqueque district. This human tragedy also does not appeared in A Guerra de Beatriz.

The role of the church is well represented by Father Nicolau (Osme). Father Nicolau reminiscent the audience on the late Dom Martinho Lopes, a fearless critic of Indonesian military occupation. He was expelled from Timor-Leste in 1983 and sent to Portugal after Indonesian government posed serious political pressure on Vatican on his role in supporting the liberation movement.

If you cannot fight them, bully them. This metaphor was well applicable by Tereza when he got married with and Indonesian captain Sumitro. ‘We should get married with the man around us and in another village to give us more children which will take up the struggle,’ Beatriz said bitterly.

Amidst some missing link in the features, such as when Pedro Cortes was called uncle by a young women and Pedro answer ‘cousin’ all of a sudden. And when Pedro and Beatriz swamp in the beach, a drunken man appeared all of a sudden and tried to harass Beatriz sexually. The unknown man eventually opened up Pedro’s pass as one of Tim Alfa member (a group of militia, which located in the district of Lospalos, the eastern part.

But generally speaking, A Guerra de Beatriz has laid the ground work for the East-Timorese to tell their own history, or provide an opportunity for people that speechless to ‘have a say.’ Especially the role of women to tell her-story while the discourse on historiography has always placed the male on the center stage of every big event.

[1] Historical researcher based in Dili, Timor-Leste.