Timor-Leste Group Email: September 3 2015

This is the text of the second group email I sent while doing fieldwork in Timor-Leste in 2015. I’m not sure I’ll put the pics up yet, but maybe at some point.

Botardi kolega! Good afternoon, friends! (Or I guess it’s more like bonoiti there, at least for most of you). It’s a month now I’ve been in the field, so here’s another little update from my travels in Timor-Leste.

When I last wrote I think we hadn’t started any of our actual field recording yet. Well we’ve been in full-swing now for the last few weeks: we’ve met with a million people, enjoyed gallons of sweet coffee, and documented 16 musical events (about one every 2 days) and a handful of non-musical ones too. Most of our gigs are all-night funeral singing sessions. We arrive around 8pm, set up our gear, and record audio and video until everyone stops singing at 6am. It’s amazing and exhausting and fantastically interesting. Most of the funeral singers are very old, and they stay up all night singing the same three melodies for hours on end while younger folks gamble nearby. Around 3am things quiet down, the kids fall asleep, and the music gets really good and sometimes really sad. People tear up and their voices fall apart, and we try our best to disappear.

Last week I met some new friends. I was hanging about the house drinking from a coconut and organizing our mountains of media—which is pretty much what I do when we’re not recording—when I heard the sound of drums nearby. I had a little chat with myself and decided to be brave and I took a little walk to see what I could see. I found a group of high school kids practicing on the neighbour’s lawn for an upcoming likurai competition. I explained what I’m doing here, and they let me hang out and ask questions and shoot some pictures and video, and now we see each other every few days when they rehearse nearby. They’re really good! I went with them to their performance last week (they won), and they’ve got two more shows this weekend. They showed me a few of the rhythms they play, and I’m going to meet a drum-maker tomorrow to see about having a drum made. So far I’m a hopeless student, but I bring snacks and I smile a lot so I guess that’s OK.

And yesterday we had a few other friends over to our house/office for dinner. They cooked a really wonderful meal for us & we even had a dance party. Our pals put on a little show, using empty water bottles and pitchers as likurai drums and dancing around the living room. It was great until the dancers realized they’d gathered a little crowd of onlookers outside & they ran away laughing. Fun!

I’ve attached a few pictures. There’s one of us at our dinner party, one of me and my likurai friends, and a few of us at work to give you a sense of what it looks like. The one with the people holding sticks is a group of folks in Suai Loro singing Beluk while they pound rice. The circle dance is a Tebe Tebe at a wedding in Bonuc 1, the prettiest village on the planet. There are two pictures of singers at metisere, the funeral ceremonies I mentioned before, and there’s a shot of the kitchen where someone brews the coffee all night. There’s a picture of me deep into a night of recording, one of Tinuk taking pictures, and one of Philip with our colleague Guntur, an indispensable wheeler-dealer who’s become a good pal. Then there’s a picture of a little kid in a blue shirt. I don’t know him, but last week when I was waiting with the truck in Holbelis a huge pile of kids gathered round for photos. After striking a few funny poses this kid levelled his eyes at me and said “Hey malai, ita hakarak baku malu?” – “Hey malai, you wanna fight me?” I shook my head and put up my hands and made a big deal of saying “Lae, Lakohi!” — “No, no way!” He sort of squinted and lowered his voice and said “Ita tauk.”—“You’re scared.” Ha! Timorese kids say the darnedest things.

Anyway, some pictures for your viewing pleasure. I miss you all terribly, and I’m happy and healthy here and the work is going well. I’m email-able if you’re into it, I’m occasionally facebook-able (though no more than usual), and I’m What’sApp-able, too. Drop me a line if you want and I’ll send you a selfie from whatever strange and wonderful place I’m in at the time. I’ll be back in early October, but I plan to hug my wife and child without letting go for two solid weeks, so let’s talk in November. I have lots of pictures and sounds to share.

Lots of love,

Maun Aaron

Timor-Leste Group Email: July 31 2015

This is the text of a group email that went out to some friends in July 2015, while I was doing fieldwork in Timor-Leste.

Hi family and friends, I’m writing you from my new home for the next two months in Suai, Timor-Leste. (What? Where? Here! https://goo.gl/q1wtU9).

Many of you know the details of the project I’m working on, so if you’re sick of hearing me rattle on about it you can just go ahead and skip to the next paragraph where I start talking about how I got spattered with the warm blood of a sacrificed pig (that was today!). For those of you who I haven’t talked to in a while, I’m living in Timor-Leste/East Timor for the next two months. I’m here on a grant from the Canadian government doing documentary research into traditional music. I’m working with a Timorese NGO called Timor Aid as an assistant to Dr. Philip Yampolsky, a celebrated (and very friendly) ethnomusicologist who specializes in the music of rural Indonesia and surrounds. You can learn a bit about our project here: http://www.timoraid.org/suai%E2%80%93research.php


Yes, and, well, today I really did get sprinkled with pig blood. We (that’s Philip, the eminent ethnomusicologist, and me, the doe-eyed Canadian rube) attended a ceremony in a nearby village called Camenaça. We arrived at the house, met a few of the important elders, awkwardly claimed a plastic chair on the dirt pad in front of the house, and sat quietly, waiting for something and wondering what. Impossibly, 35 construction workers and engineers in blue protective overalls and bright green polo shirts (respectively) immediately descended on the place and turned it into some kind of weird rodeo, pulling up chairs and pulling out iphones. Seemingly important clean-cut engineer-type folks in pinstriped shirts took places on the dais (porch?) alongside the weathered elders; some put on traditional outfits while their employees snickered. Folks brought a pig around, slit its throat, caught the blood in a cast-iron pot, and dragged it away. OK!

After much confusion & hushed speculation we realized that this was a ceremony to bless the 2nd phase of construction on a pipeline being built in the area, and the overalls and engineers were upper-and-middle managers from the company building the pipeline. We all marched over to the work site and gathered for some speeches and a ground-breaking ritual, which is where I got doused with a bit of blood and coconut juice while taking photos. I’m glad I brought a weather-sealed camera.


We all (that’s Philip, his wife Tinuk, Rosalia from Timor Aid, our drivers Francisco and Carlos, and little old me) arrived here in the small-ish town of Suai on Wednesday, after spending about a week in the capital, Dili—a word which here means “an impossibly expensive place to spin your wheels while you sort out research visas.” From Dili the drive through the mountains to Suai takes about 10 hours on a very bumpy and very beautiful road. We stopped in the small market towns of Aileiu and Maubisse, and then again to take a photo in the most beautiful alpine meadow dotted with cows, and then again later at a very sad place that the locals call Jakarta. After many hours we arrived in the flat lands of Suai, near the sea, thick with picturesque thatched-roof houses called uma tali and full of teenagers who want to take my photo and add me to their Facebook.


East Timor is beautiful, I’m safe and happy, and I’m getting along very well with Philip and Tinuk. I’m trying my best to learn Tetun Prasa, a local language all mixed up with Portuguese. (Hau kokotuk apprende Tetun, maibe hau comprende ouituan deit. Favor ida koalia neineik loos!—I’m trying to learn Tetun, but I only understand a little. Please speak very slowly!). I miss my family terribly, though I’m able to talk with them almost every day (as long as I don’t run out of data on my phone), and I’ve been taking lots of photos of lizards and roosters to send to Bean.

What else can I say? We haven’t really started our work yet, but we’re getting close. I’ll be here until the first week of October, waking up every morning to the sound of a thousand roosters. If you’ve got WhatsApp, you can add me and we can keep in touch. If you see my wife, give her a big hug, and if you see my daughter, tell her something cool about her dad. I’ll attach some pictures for you.

All the best, my friends. I miss you lots!