"Literature should heal wounds in Timor-Leste"

October 2009 -

"Poetry is a serious matter," says Abe Barreto Soares, a writer, poet and translator from Timor-Leste who has been blogging in English, Tetum (next to Portugese the main language in Timor-Leste), Indonesian, and Galole (an indigenous language) since 2007. "I believe that anyone who wants to become a blogger and tries to express themselves will find that blogging actually helps a lot for their artistic career."


Abe Barreto Soares during a poetry performance.

This year marks a decade of independence for Timor-Lorosa'e (Sunshine), as Soares affectionately calls it. Since separating from Indonesia, in 1999, and becoming a democratic state in 2002, the Timorese people have been rekindling their sense of national identity. Intimately linked to nationalism is culture. Among the Timorese people, literature and indigenous oral poetry is an intrinsic part of their cultural heritage.

"East Timorese nationalism means that I know where I came from, where I am at this moment, and where I am heading,” explains Soares who sought political asylum in Canada in the 1990s where he campaigned for his country's independence. He refers to nations as trees, and expresses that "their branches and twigs will not flourish properly if they are cut from their own roots".

In Timor-Leste, where literacy levels hover around fifty percent, Soares uses blogging in conjunction with a monthly literary radio shows and organized poetry events to "communicate Timorese identity to the world at large". While he admits, it has not been easy to build a literary movement in a new country in the new millennium, he remains optimistic of its potential to contribute towards national development.

Soares is determined to make Timorese literature and poetry a part of the mainstream. He believes technology can be a helpful and liberating way to achieve this goal both nationally and internationally, but cautions that words can also be powerful and manipulative.

"Words can heal and also can hurt people. The real literary community should be the ones to bring healing to the wounds of society. They should be problem solvers and not problem makers. They should become the soul keepers. In the context of Timor-Leste, they have a big responsibility to keep the soul of the land of Lafaek (crocodile) alive. If they fail to do so, then it will be a total disaster."