By Fidelis Magalhaes
I found Anderson´s article on Big Brotherism v. Mauberism rather romantic. In his attempt to draw a philosophical, or rather cultural, divide among the Timorese leaders, he fails to reflect the reality on the ground. So in this response I set out to clarify a number of issues.
First, he claims that the ‘Big man’ culture means that local and political conflict are seen as resolvable by the intervention of a great personality, a hero or mediator. The ‘big man’ politician, like the clan leader or the Liurai, can be seen as a unifying force, expected to impose himself on the situation and then distribute benefits. Still in the same context, he draws a parallel with the Melanesian culture of a big man who garners loyalty by distributing club goods. Although, this quick assertions may ring true if we conduct a hasty analysis, but once one goes deeper one would find that things are not that black and white. In fact that very big brotherism that he chastises in fact is a subset of Mauberism it-self. Big Brotherism is a product of the resistance years. It did not come out of the blue without a clear genesis. Big brotherism, despite the fact that it had already been used in the jungle among the FALINTIL fighters partially due to the near annihilation of its original leaders and in search for comfort out of a collective orphanhood, became popularized by the sudden participation of the youth circa. 1989. This last wave of participation and their obvious age difference with Xanana and other FALINTIL leaders allowed this big brotherism to grow.
Returning to the meaning of big brotherism, unlike the big man culture in Melanesia (and also common in Africa), big brotherism is not totally hierarchical and has less emphasis on the distribution of club goods. Although big brotherism implies a hierarchy of political seniority, it, nevertheless, provides a space for criticism. In the meetings that I participated in as a member of the youth wing during the resistance and in more recent political conventions, brotherism grants a room for open criticism within the spirit of brotherhood. Even the big brothers themselves are not insulated from criticisms. Instead, big brotherism and brotherism in general, allow people to criticize their leaders without fearing any harsh retaliation, as the discussion was conducted in the spirit of brotherhood. Having pointed out the meaning and origin of big brotherism, I also concur that this kind of reference to political leaders have the potential to be manipulated for the purpose of centralizing power. But if we take a more critical stance, any terms employed to characterize human relations are inherently precarious and prone to political manipulations. This is because power itself is not a thing. In fact power lies in human relationships. Power exist only in relation to others and not independent in the self.
Going deeper into the relationship between mauberism and big brotherism, they both have an origin in the resistance. Both expressions invoke a shared narrative--the nationalist grand narrative. So in a sense, putting our own conviction aside, it is not right to ignore the connection between the two. Brotherism and Mauberism are not that far off. The commonality of experience and brotherhood in arms of every Timorese articulated in Mauberism that gave life to brotherism and big brotherism.
Secondly, in the article Anderson claims that big brotherism is only used by Xanana, JRH and TMR. This assertion is mere accidental, or intentional since his attempt is to develop a coherent argument for the article. I prefer to go with the second guess. He excludes the fact that even Lu Olo himself is a member of the club. Mr. Lu Olo is often referred to as Maun Lu or Camarada Maun Lu not only by party members but by most of those who participated in the resistance regardless of their current party affiliation. This is a way to show him respect and to demonstrate some degree of trust. Even TMR still refers to Mari Alkatiri and Lu Olo as maun and alin. In fact he addresses Mari Alkatiri as Maun Bo'ot for being one of the founding fathers of this nation. Lu Olo still uses the term to refer to others in various occasions. So to cut it short the big brotherism is not only used by one or two individuals but in fact by all the historical figures; they only differ in frequency.
Thirdly, supposedly Mari Alkatiri and Lu Olo do not use big brotherism, they still something else that is not mauberism. They use what I call doctorism (in my view they use a mix of doctorism and big brotherism). This should have been analyzed in the article as well. As we are currently witnessing, there is an attempt to portray Mr. Lu Olo as another Dr, the other being Dr. Alkatiri.Without losing my admiration to Mr. Lu Olo's commitment to learning and his intellectual aptitude, I find the excessive use of doctorism runs in contrary to the mauberism that Anderson claims. When Mauberism means egalitarianism and 'stress[ing] identification with these same people. Common rural people (and not a European-style working class) were seen as the revolutionary subjects of an independence movement aiming at ‘ukun rasik an’ (self determination)'. The fact speaks louder than discourses. The self proclaim doctorism stands quite far away from the mauberism. This rather than revolutionary, on the contrary, reminds me of what Frantz Fanon said about the post-colonial elites. This mimicking is no less or more than the big brotherism. They represent the post colonial mindset. Moreover, doctorism runs in direct contradiction with Mauberism, because it springs out from the European bourgeoisie class. It is commonly used in Portugal and is a sign of distinct social and economic class. How, then one asks, can it represent the mauberes? One hypothesis is that we needed philosopher kings. But this also does not hold as soon as we begin to problematize. This is another example of the objectification of the maubere people who are in need for the enlightened ones. This is not different from Anderson's Big Brotherism.
Finally, I think that what we need to do in Timor Leste is to politicize politics. I understand why there is an attempt to characterize Taur Matan Ruak as an anti-Maubere/FRETILIN who is somewhat subject to exogenous pressures. There is even an attempt to portray him as a puppet of the current Prime Minister. I agree that the brotherly relations between all the resistance figures will to some degree continue to have an influence on their policy. But this relationship is shared not only between TMR and Xanana but also with other figures such as Lu Olo and Mauhuno. This very relationship, despite how negative it appears, that has allowed them to criticize each other without killing each other. Despite all the politics there still is a mutual respect and soft spots for each other. This is also why TMR's presidency is going to be different. He can with his own credential have a frank discussion with whoever in charge of the government. His entry into politics is to ensure that we achieve the dream of independence. Tolerating bad governance is not in the agenda, but frank discussions to have a better governance is. We will see who can work to better the lives of the Mauberes, let's wait and see.