Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Which Witch is Which?

One of the links I have on this site, Return to Rai Ketak, witch I respect and read as a matter of daily ingestion, has a link entitled ‘When tabloid jornos(sic) meet witchcraft’. Go to the link and read it. It is here…
Now, I don’t know the reason Rai Ketak posted this, but I suspect it was to trivialise tabloid journalism and to show that no one knows East Timorese culture and customs more than, or as well as, Rai Ketak.
The thing is, I also followed this story, and went to the villages concerned, and spoke to the same people mentioned, and more people, and the ‘tabloid’ story is as true as it can possibly be.
Maybe Rai Ketak is saying that we do not know enough about East Timor to pass comment or judgement. Be that as it may, I don’t think there is ANY reason for hacking three people to death and then burning the bodies.
Oh, and by the way, Nelson’s father escaped from Becora prison about 6 weeks ago with the other killers. They are still on the loose.
When, and if, they are re-captured, maybe we should look for the Devil’s mark on their bodies, or see if they float or sink in a local pond?
It’s in the lap of the Gods, (or the bloggers?)

please leave a comment............


JG said...

Here it is Katuas Bukurteen, my response to the Bulletin. Sorry for my spelling error in "australian"... After reading that article, I have to say, the thought crossed my mind that this "journo" was your friend. Well, if there's one thing they know how to do, it's take criticism. (And if there is one thing I know how to do, it is to shell it out.)

I am not defending the murderers of those women. Let me clear. I'm just questioning the tone and utility of this article. I mean, yes, it is an inherently sensational story and it can sell magazines. But why write it in this way?

The status of "witch" in Timor, as friends pointed out, is worse than being a slave. It is very hard to survive once this label is thrown at you. Witchcraft also puts the justice system and law enforcement in a bind.

Anyways I hope at least the article sparks debate...

Dear Sirs,

I am writing regarding the article "Witch Hunt" by Paul Toohey. What is the purpose of this article? Is it news? Is is a portrait of the ethnographic "other"? Is it a misplaced attempt to expose evil?

This article is particularly manipulative, because it does not directly assume its western, moralist bias, which frankly would have been preferable. It appears as though to allow the perpetrators to freely represent their point of view. But by decontextualising them, by entering into a whole world of meaning and culture of violence without adequate background, it paints rural Timor as a dark, shameful place.

Why, for example, didn't Toohey ask where the nearest doctor was to the family? Why didn't the family consult western medicine? Beyond the cosmological hesitations towards biomedicine, there are a host of practical reasons why people do not access medical assistance. These lead to thousands of less-tabloid worthy unnecessary deaths every year.

Instead of asking these highly pertinent and human questions, Toohey takes the titillating, orientalist tack. Sad indeed.


fat old sod said...

Dear jg, thanks for your comment. I appreciate all comments on this blog. At least it means it’s being read. And no, the journalist who wrote the piece is not a friend of mine. I’ve never met him. But I do have to say I thought the article was excellent. Non sensationalist, when it easily could have been, thoughtful, sober and to the point.
Toohey didn’t need to ask where the nearest doctor to the family was. There is/was a Cuban doctor based in the village. All the villagers knew this.
You ask in your letter to The Bulletin “Is this article news?” Well, in my opinion of course it’s news. The brutal murder of three people IS news. And yes, it is a portrait of the ethnographic “other”. There is nothing wrong in pointing this out. People ARE different, people DO have different beliefs. It is one of the roles of a journalist to point these things out and bring them to the attention of the wider reading public so that we may all begin to try and understand “other” people and their beliefs, fears and thoughts.
You would have to ask the family why they didn’t consult western medicine, not Toohey.
So, to finish, I don’t think Toohey did take a titillating, orientalist (whatever that is) tack. I regarded the article as well written, well researched and most definitely non-sensationalist.

Your thoughts please?

FOS aka Katuas Bukurteen.

ps – the following is a verbatim extract from an email I received from a friend of mine this morning in response to the Which Witch is Which? post. You may find it interesting:

“You know the comment about the witches…, well, when I was at the Heliport, we would have at least one dead “witch” a month flown in, in a body bag from the districts by the U.N. helicopters. They were always in multiple sections in the body bag; a result of creative machete work. Whenever I tell friends about ET, they just shake their heads in disbelief. They just can’t come to grips with the fact that this sort of thing can, and still does happen in this day and age in such a beautiful tropical place. I shake my head too.”

JG said...

Dear Katuas Bukurteen,

Sorry for misrepresenting your relationship to Toohey.

The witch story broke many weeks ago. So I suppose it is news to Australians, but not news to Timorese or anybody who follows Timor.

The fact is, very little is written about Timorese life, the Timorese world view, etc. So when a magazine uses a precious page NOT writing about political intrigue and crisis in Dili -- Bananarepublicness, if you will -- then a lot of people will be interested, and draw conclusions from it.

I do find it orientalist to represent people as curiosities, objects of our scrutiny and disdain without proper context. And I will continue to. We obviously have different criteria in this respect. I do concede that this article could have been much worse. Perhaps I'm spending too much time in the company of books.

The Cuban doctor element is quite interesting, as across Timor I noted a palpable mistrust for them that never seemed to apply to other malai doctors. All over I heard that they "ruined" people. Rumors were spreading about them. In the west, especially, the mistrust of "communists" is strong. This is tainting the people's relationship to the health system. (Ironically, the Ministry of Health is one of the better functioning parts of government.)

As I argue until I am blue in the face, rural Timor is better engaged with an attempt to understand, and while it sometimes turns our stomach, to respect that things there occur with a different logic. This logic couldn't be further from our western worship of the individual, of the rights of the individual.

I heard anthropologists dismissing trauma as a "western concept" -- and I'm definitely not one of those. I do defend that there are certain rights that are inherent, I suppose I'm just arguing that there is a better way of bringing social change than to merely regard rural Timorese as barbarous.

Lastly, I just wanted to point out that Liquica and Maubara are "known" for being sites of witchcraft. They are notorious in Timor. Why? Good question for a magazine journalist/ethnographer.

And is there a correlation between this and the fact that Besi Merah Puti, the militia from these parts, committed some of the most heinous atrocities in 1999? And that in August/Sept 1975, these areas were some of the bloodiest in the civil conflict?


The Truth and Giggles Commission in Bali is also "news" in that it is intended to distract from the glaring lack of accountability for the Indonesian role in building up groups like BMP.

Thanks for engaging me in such a reasoned debate. It's hard to come by these days. I do respect your point of view, in the end, it probably represents more people than mine.


JG said...

the CTF is actually located in Jakarta, my mistake


fat old sod said...

I would be interested to know if you get a reply from The Bulletin, and if you don't mind, what they say.

JG said...

Didn't and don't expect one. It was an online form