A Conquista de Baucau

In the early twentieth century Armando Pinto Correia (1935: 126-128), the famous Portuguese administrator of Baucau district, recorded an origin story for Baucau linked to three sons of the local patriarch. In this narrative, the patriarch divides the area between his three sons named Wono Loi, Tai Loi and Leki Loi and the sons found the town's present day villages of Bahu (Wabubo), Caibada and Tirilolo respectively (see Map 4.1). Yet by the 1980s when the historian Peter Spillett visited Baucau, in the accounts he heard these same three brothers had transformed into invaders from the south (Spillett 1999: 275).  Meanwhile in the nearby village of Buruma, these same three brothers were characterised as founding ancestors of the coastal region who had subsequently set out across the north sea to the island of Roma. One of them, Loi Leki, later returned to Buruma on the back of a crocodile (Spillett 1999: 275; see also chapter 3). In the course of my own research, I have been told versions of all of these stories. While confusing for an ethnographer in search of historical insight, what became clear to me over time was that the trope of these three named brothers, the one constant in all of these stories, enabled all tellers to connect people, differentiate groups and shift hierarchical relations across great distances and time periods. What was being prioritised was the forging of dynamic relationships.

Like Peter Spillett, Correia (1935: 129-133) was also told a story of the conquest of Baucau. However, his story features three un-named brothers from Makadiki in Viqueque on the southern side of the central ranges. These brothers, who lived by a spring, came into dispute and two of them migrated away in search of a new home and spring. As they travelled north across the landscape others joined their party. They arrived in the north and found Baucau's (now) six villages at war with each other (two against four). These southern newcomers were fierce warriors and because of this they were asked to join one of warring parties. The southern warriors joined the battle as requested and the war was won. While the southerner's ferocious battle tactics shocked their new allies, the locals were pleased with the victory and asked the newcomers what they sought in return. Their reply was that they only sought the rights to drink the waters of the region. The right was granted and a victory party was held. However, during these festivities the local (presumably Waima'a speaking) inhabitants were tricked by the southerners into participating in a ritual during which iron spikes (brought from the south) were plunged into their heads. With the local leadership now dead, the southern newcomers settled in to rule the region. 

The similarities and differences between the stories told firstly to Correia (1935) and later to Spillett (1999) are perhaps best explained by the fact that by the 1980s much had changed in Baucau. The in-migration of many Makasae speakers (discussed below) meant that many of the original Waima'a speaking houses of the area had either left the region or had, by then, long inter-married with Makasae speakers. In one of these origin narratives relayed to Spillett (1999: 270), the first king of Baucau was said to be a Makasae man named We Lewa who had three sons Tirilolo, Bahu and Caibada (although a fourth brother Buruma is also mentioned). This king was killed by a warrior from Viqueque whose own sons then divided up the area between themselves. In another conquest narrative told to Spillett, a party of 600 invaders attacked the area led by three brothers from Luca whose names were Tai Loi, Leki Loi and Wono Loi (Spillet 1999: 270-272). To try to repel these attacks the local (presumably in this version Makasae) inhabitants of Baucau sought the assistance of a group of 80 neighbouring newcomers who hailed from the Waima'a speaking area of Vemasse (and whose leader's names were Bahu, Caibada and Tirilolo). These southern invaders defeat the Waima'a newcomers, killing their leaders and driving them out. After this the brothers from Luca took control of the water supply (from the extant Makasae rulers), married with local women and acquired livestock. 

While all these trans-generational accounts of origin and conquest have a stable core of three brothers, they vary according to the situatedness of the teller and the time period of the telling.

Related entries

Label / Notes Owner Date Modified
Lisa Palmer 05-Dec-2010 25-Jun-2015
A Conquista de Baucau (dos Santos 1967)
Extract from Dos Santos, E. (1967) Kanoik: Mitos e Lendas de Timor, Lisboa: Ultramar.
Lisa Palmer 01-Jan-1967 25-Jun-2015