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Thursday, January 19, 2012

ABC TV: Birth of a Nation: "Lu Olo's Story"

Lu Olo's Story is the story of Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres, a commander in East Timor's guerrilla army who spent 24 years fighting Indonesian rule. When the Indonesians withdrew in November 1999, Lu Olo left his mountain camp and began the difficult transition from soldier to politician.
As a civilian, Lu Olo now has to deal with people in very different ways. Former allies have become political rivals and there is the difficult issue of reconciliation with former enemies. And as a politician and community leader, Lu Olo has become an eligible widower and the matchmakers are on his trail.
View Episode Two: The Inside Story, a Real Media slide show of images from Episode One with an audio commentary from Luigi Acquisto, and Episode Two: East Timor Faces, a gallery of images of local people and places taken by the film makers while on location in East Timor.

Historical Background
In 1975, after 460 years of Portuguese rule Fretilin declared independence for the small nation. Ten days later, Indonesia invaded. Fretilin fought the Indonesian military for the next twenty four years. A third of the population, over 250,000 people died as a result of the occupation. This was the highest death rate per capita in any genocide in the 20th century.

In 1999, Indonesia agreed to a United Nations supervised referendum. The people of East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence. The Indonesian army and the local militia it created looted and killed, raising the country to the ground. A month later, the United Nations sent an Australian led international peace keeping force to East Timor.

The Story Begins

We see Lu Olo making his bed, rearranging pink frilled pillows. He tells us:

'In the beginning it was difficult to adjust to living in the city. One afternoon I was having a rest. I was sleeping on a bed I wasn't used to, having always slept on the ground. I don't know how, I must have turned over because the next minute I was on the floor. I felt so ashamed I looked at the door but luckily no one saw me. I went back to bed but I slept against the wall so not to fall again.'

It's Lu Olo's birthday and he is being driven through the streets of Dili to Fretilin headquarters where people are waiting for him with food and drinks. Mari Alkatiri introduces Lu Olo and tells the people present that Lu Olo's real name is Francisco Guterres and that Lu Olo is a 'war' name. He tells them that Lu Olo left school at seventeen and went to fight with Fretilin and that he saw many people die; too many to count. He says that Lu Olo didn't give up, he stayed in the mountains, 'until the stars were shining again in our country.'

'This is how my life was. I didn't expect to be alive and to be here with all of you. Because of this, I forgot how to celebrate birthdays. And today happens to be the day I was born, which I'd prefer went unnoticed … but it's a day to reflect, to see what values I can offer our people. I feel I'm in the middle of my family when we're together, comrades. So I thank you for making this night special.'

After Indonesia invaded East Timor, Fretilin, the country's first independent government started a long, isolated battle for self determination. Lu Olo fought as a guerrilla with Falintil, the armed resistance. For over twenty years he didn't set foot in a village or a town. He lived in mountain camps or hid in isolated farmhouses. He was one of only a handful of army commanders to evade capture or death and the only original member of Fretilin to have survived in East Timor.
Now president of Fretilin, he is preparing the party for East Timor's first democratic election to choose a government. Sixteen political parties have registered to stand and the United Nations will supervise the election.

On the eve of the election campaign, Fretilin receive information from the community that a kidnap attempt is to be made on Lu Olo. A Fretilin supporter tells Lu Olo that he'd heard the information from his mother. Lu Olo is unconcerned. He says:

'If they want to kidnap me they're making a big mistake.'

Later he says:

'The boys believe that Xavier Do Amaral sent his people to kidnap me but I don't see anybody. I would like to see them.'

The Rival

Francisco Xavier Do Amaral, leader of the ASDT (Social Democratic Association Of East Timor) denies any involvement with the threat against Lu Olo. Do Amaral was the first leader of Fretilin. In November 1975, a month before the Indonesian invasion he proclaimed independence for East Timor and became the nation's first president. In 1978, he was expelled from Fretilin and later accused of treason. He lived and worked in Jakarta for the next two decades.

Do Amaral returned to Dili in 2000 and, unable to reconcile with Fretilin, formed the ASDT. This rival political party exploits many of the slogans, symbols and music of Fretilin.

We see an ASDT rally. Party leaders at a raised table accept the salute of marchers in traditional costume. A bugler plays and a cow is led to be slaughtered as a sacrifice.

Xavier Do Amaral tells us:

'Fretilin split into small parts and the problem is that they are against one another. The people don't know which one is the real representative of Fretilin. If it keeps going like this it may provoke a civil war.'

Later, Lu Olo responds to this statement:

'Xavier follows the old ways. People play the flute … they bow to him and kiss his hand. Fretilin is a political, not a cultural organisation. He should have a political program, not treat our people like slaves … like in feudal

Back at the ASDT rally, the cow has been wrestled onto its side and a man wearing a feathered head dress and carrying a ceremonial dagger in a long curved, ornately decorated sheath approaches it. He slaps it and then repeatedly stabs it in the neck. As the crowd whoops, the beast writhes and the man dances and holds aloft the bloody knife.

Xavier Do Amaral tells us:

'For East Timorese people, national days or big events or important events in people's lives you have to offer some sacrifice to God. Maybe if we talk about East Timorese people we can say we are in the seventeenth century. Now people are in the twenty first century. We are still in the seventeenth century so we have to go back to the seventeenth century to understand the people, the logic of the people, the life of the people of that time,'

In The Mountains

Lu Olo tells us of his life in the mountains.

'The most difficult thing for me was that at twenty three I married a 'sister'. She didn't want to surrender, despite my insistence that she go to the villages to be with her family. She didn't want to go and was killed in a battle in the East Timorese mountains. Every time I remember, or every time I make a trip back to the mountains my spirit returns there.'

We see a convoy of four wheel drive vehicles and motorcycles snaking through the landscape. It's the Fretilin campaign tour. The convoy passes wrecked buildings and people wave from the roadsides. From the passenger seat of a four wheel drive, Lu Olo points at a mountain in the distance and says:

'We used to live in that high mountain. It's called Makfai. That was all our area.'

At a small settlement a car stops and Lu Olo gets out. He is warmly greeted by local people who embrace him. He tells us:

'These people looked after us. They worked with us in the underground. They cooked for us, gave us information, gave us every thing we needed.'

He points at one particular man and says:

'This one was our guide. He's very trustworthy. His wife also looked after us, even his uncle. Everybody here helped us.'

Lu Olo tells the villagers:

'Don't forget. I miss this place very much.'

Later, at a Fretilin rally, Lu Olo takes the stage and asks the crowd:

'Who was in the mountains commanding the struggle, commanding the Falintil soldiers, leading the people, informing the people so they could resist the Indonesian military? Who did, comrades? …. Members of the Fretilin central committee led the people in the resistance.

The convoy continues to move across the country. A carnival atmosphere prevails at some towns and bands play and people dance. At Baucau, Lu Olo tells the crowd:

'I don't want another war. I'm sick of it. Even to see a uniform makes me sick. Seeing a rifle makes me want to throw it away. I'm tired of fighting. Fretilin wants peace and stability … to build love, to move forward.'

At a Fretilin function, three concerned women discuss the imperfect nature of Lu Olo's private 
life. They all agree:

'He needs a companion by his side. He should find someone. As a leader he shouldn't just choose anyone. It should be someone who understands his role, someone who fits his position. She needs to be from a good background …. Someone who understands his role. She should act like a leader's wife.'

Then Lu Olo tells us:

'A lot of old ladies and my family have advised me to find a partner … with whom to share the happiness of life. But I haven't taken that step because first, I want to rebuild the lives of our people.'

The convoy travels through mountain ranges, across great green valleys with fat buffalo. We meet Xanana Gusmao, who greets Lu Olo with an embrace and calls him, 'Big Brother'.
Lu Olo tells us:

'Xanana Gusmao has always been my friend. I respect him. He doesn't belong to a political party, whereas I do. He is going to be our candidate to be the first president of East Timor. That was always Fretilin's position. He will be the first president.'

A Painful Homecoming

Now the convoy travels up mist shrouded mountain roads, past scrubby fields and through thick forest to Ossu, Lu Olo's home town where he is greeted tearfully by his family. His cousin, Etelvina Guterres tells us:

'My family is poor but we welcome him with sadness and tears. He's like a precious object because we thought we would never find him again. But now, it's like my family has received a gold medal.'

Lu Olo says:

'I came back here in July 1999 for the first time in twenty four years. My mother was alive but she died six months later. I feel very emotional and very happy that I found my family again and even though they're very poor, I feel proud to have lived in this family.

Joao Da Costa Guterres tells us:

'During the Indonesian invasion, because we were related to Lu Olo, some of us were tortured. The ones left behind suffered as much as the ones taken to prison in Aatauro. We couldn't work in the rice fields far away or travel long distances because they thought we'd contact Lu Olo.'

Lu Olo says:

'In 1991 the Indonesian's discovered that I was still alive in the mountains so they sent my family to prison. They tried to force me to surrender but I didn't surrender. It made me stronger and more determined to resist the Indonesian vandals. From that moment I didn't care if I died. So I decided to die in the mountains … but fortunately I didn't die and most of my family are still alive.'

We see people mourning at a funeral. Some are overcome by grief. During the war with Indonesia, many families, after years of no contact became convinced that their relatives fighting in the resistance had died. This was not always the case and funeral services were often held for soldiers who were still alive in the mountains. Following Indonesia's departure, many of the guerrillas who returned to their families were met with a mixed response.
Former Falintil commander, Bi Soi tells us:

'After the war my cousin Lu Olo and I returned home. But the family didn't welcome us. They said: "We've already buried you, you're ghosts. We can take you in as soldiers, but to take you in as family, to live with us, we can't do that." I said to Lu Olo: "When can we go home?" This is a big problem. We won't be happy with independence until this happens.'

'Many Falintil soldiers believe that a national ceremony must be conducted to reintegrate soldiers who were mistakenly declared dead back into the land of the living.

Because of these animist beliefs even Lu Olo is not permitted to sleep in his family home.
A celebration is held for Lu Olo at his home village. Woman tenderise meat by bashing it with wine bottles; a pig is trussed under a pole awaiting slaughter; a song is sung in tribute to those killed during the occupation.

'They are all dead and their bodies are lost
Their bones are scattered because they loved their country.'

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