Episode 4: (Old) Office of Manatuto’s Regent, Laclubar Subdistrict

Old Office of Manatuto’s Regent

Laclubar Subdistrict, Manatuto

When entering Laclubar, I was greeted by a hilly landscape with houses shyly perched on it. They are of varying conditions. Some are perfectly habitable, while some others are in a state of sculpturally ruinous. Among them is a place that once functioned as the office for the District of Manatuto’s ex Regents.

It wasn’t easy finding someone who can tell me the history of this area, let alone this building. The people here don’t seem to know about it. But my search bore its fruit when I met Mr. Joao Maria De Cristo Rei*. We were able to stop for a moment and talked a little bit about this building which -by now seems to be a common occurrence- has a strong tie to the rocky history of the area and the general conflicts in Timor Leste. The building, in a nutshell, is a story of historical witness that was rehabilitated more often than it was good for.

Let’s go back in time for a moment. In the first half of the 20th Century, Manatuto was a sparsely populated region, It was home to two subdistricts (today Manatuto has six), one of them being the capital, Laclubar. In 1942, Japan invaded East Timor and forced their way to Manatuto. Seen as a potential for a strategic base, Japan then forced the local population to build roads that lead to other Eastern districts such as Baucau, Viqueque and Lospalos. Upon the departure of the Japanese on 17 August 1945, Timor Leste including Manatuto was once again occupied by Portugal, which continued the forced labour system.

In 1955, the District of Manatuto designated a new subdistrict called Manatuto and moved the capital there from Laclubar. This development prompted the regent to call for the construction of this building. The work was carried out by the able bodied in the district in a bi-weekly rotation system. There were two persons who were involved in the planning: a Timorese (I couldn’t confirm if he was from Manatuto, however it is very likely since it was a common practice for a house to be constructed by a local) and a Portuguese. The construction took a total of three years to complete, upon which it was used as a head office of the District of Manatuto.

The building was quite a significant landmark in the area and was used considerably for various governmental functions for the next ten years until 1968 when, tragically, the building suddenly collapsed. The building was then rehabilitated in the next year and was converted into a lodge for visiting dignitaries from Portugal and other countries who were visiting Manatuto.

In 1974, the civil war dawned upon Manatuto and the building was burned and ransacked. Indonesia’s arrival at the end of 1975 brought this building back, in its dilapidated condition, to its use. The military occupied it for the next two years. Once control of the area was secured, then-Regent Abilio Osoriu Soares rehabilitated the building to use it as a lodge. This did not last long, however, as the Indonesian government decided to abandon the building when it was deemed that it wasn’t used as much as it should have.

The building remained more or less in an acceptable condition until 1999, the beginning of the conflict between the pro-independence and the pro-autonomy militants. The conflict spread to Manatuto and once again the building was burnt to the ground. It has remained in silence ever since.

* Mr. Joao Maria de Cristo Rei is the owner of the land on which the office is built. He is also a writer of the history of Manatuto. We at Fatin Historico are very grateful of his assistance.

Original text written by Pedro Ximenes.

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