Episode 2: (Old) Town Centre, Venilale Subdistrict

(Old) Town Centre

Venilale Subdistrict, Baucau

I have to say that I was intrigued by this relatively large sized building because of its seemingly out of place existence: burned and fully covered in moss with an open field surrounding the building, smack bang in a rather peaceful neighborhood.

The departure of the Japanese military in 1945, after occupying East Timor for three years, created a power vacuum that was almost immediately filled by the returning Portuguese. The returning occupier, who realized the need for stability, quickly ordered for the construction of this building which was intended to serve as the head of the sub district’s (known as camat) office and a centre of the sprawling villages in Venilale.

(short video after the jump)

The chiefs of each of the five villages* then set up a rotating system and marshaled their residents to help build the building. Due to the lack of proper construction material, cement, stone and ash were used. Several years after its completion, in 1956, this building also served as a guesthouse for honored visitors.

In 1975, members of the Fretilin political party used this building as a base commando (markas komando) to stage its own fight against other Timorese political parties in the district of Baucau. They were able to hold around 25 members of the UDT and APODETI in a jail for around 100 days.

However, towards the end of the year on 7 December 1975, the recently arriving Indonesians wrested the control of the building from the Fretilin, and used it as their base commando to hunt for guerillas. This was to go on until 1999 when the referendum voted the Indonesian military out of East Timor. The black mark on the building is because the building was torched as the Indonesians made their exit (it must be said, however, it may have not been done by the Indonesians).

Those bloody incidents aside, the residents of Venilale regarded this building quite highly for it was the centre of activity when there was some relative stability in the country. The Portuguese-influenced architecture of the building also adds a little flavor to the neighborhood and children used to play nearby during the Indonesian occupation. Thus the local residents are dismayed that this building is now unused and is left deserted.

There are still visitors to Venilale who take interest in the building’s history and it is a testament of this building’s significance to the life of the residents of Venilale in the past century.

We would like to thank Mr. Aleixo Ximenes for the story.

*The five villages are: Uatu-Haco, Bado-Ho’o, Badomori, Uai-Oli and Fatulia village.

One Response to “Episode 2: (Old) Town Centre, Venilale Subdistrict”

  1. Megan Power says:

    great to see the work you are doing Kamil – hope you can link up with the other Timor-Leste projects in development @UniMelb

Leave a Reply