A small post here, but many more to come. Thanks to the Jerome Foundation pitching in to this trip, I was able to come to East Timor. Sunday, May 2, was my first exposure to live indigenous East Timorese music. In this picture is master ladako player Amaku Aman and his sister (with the small sticks).
This is a very old bamboo instrument, with ostensibly some relation to the "Valiha" of Madagascar, but exists in different forms with different names across that swath of islands (an Austronesian link perhaps? That's outside of my realm of knowledge at the moment). But beautiful instrument, the bamboo strips raised from this one whole piece of bamboo as opposed to strings attached or anything of the sort.
Amaku Aman made the lakado pictured here himself, and he also pulled out different sizes that he had made while we were there that afternoon. They had no phone, so Sr. Eugénio do Sagrado Coração de Jesus Sarmento (Head of Department of Arts & Culture, within the National Directorate of Culture, Ministry of Education) arranged for myself and other researchers (Nuno Oliveira who is an archeaologist from Portugal; David Palazón who is a filmmaker from Spain; and Elena, a wonderful illustrator and artist), to visit this master in Becora, away from the center of Dili. We were trying to go to his home the day before, but the rain in the afternoon caused the river near his home to rise too high for us to drive across. But Sunday was dry thankfully, and I was so excited to go.
We arrived around noon, with Sr. Eugénio bearing a gift of dried areca nut and betel leaf, something I have become very accustomed to in the Taiwanese indigenous community. (Of great interest, of course, are links between the music and areca nut/betel leaf customs of East Timor and Taiwan). The woman in blue arrived later and would be the one to sing with Amaku Aman and his sister. The lakado is always played with two people, one "strumming" the bamboo strands with a pick, and the other hitting the strands with precision with two thin sticks. I would have to learn how to play the instrument and understand the music to really speak about it, but that would take a long time, and I would have to be given permission to learn, of course. Not an immediate thing at all for any deep tradition, which is ok.
I just finished some rough transcriptions of the songs which the woman in blue sang, and I eagerly await the next time we can visit the village again so that I can double check the lyrics which are in the Mambae dialect. I must also take down their names, which I failed to do when I was there. There was so much going on, and just trying to get good camera and recording position can sometimes be a distraction to the most important things. Each fieldwork experience is a learning experience, and I always take mental notes of what to do and what not to do the next time. Sr. Eugénio and I spoke to each other in Portuguese, as he didn't speak english, and Nuno was invaluable for translating as my Portuguese, though passable for basic communication, was not good enough for understanding the complete meaning of the songs. Sr. Eugénio was able to speak a little Mambae and of course is fluent in Tetum, but my Tetem learning has not been as fast as I would have liked, just having not spent enough time studying it yet. But I'm practicing what I know so far, just a matter of memorization and use.
More soon - don't want to spend too much writing and miss exploring this beautiful island! I was fortunate to go to Ataúro island (just north of Dili) on my 3rd day, and will be going to Jaco (most eastern island) on Friday to see the cave paintings near there. I am bursting with excitement. Flood of stimuli and inspiration and also finding strategies for helping the school children and their dire lack of nutrition (I have a powdered milk plan for school children in mind which a man from the Rotary club in Melbourne helped me work out), and meeting all of my uncle's incredible friends with very fancy titles (Senior Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Tourism, etc. etc.) but who are just down to earth people, everyone with different dreams for East Timor.