Authenticating documents

During the years 1975-1999, hundreds if not thousands of documents originating in East Timor were circulated internally and internationally. Most items circulated internationally were photocopies, not the original document. Recipients of these copies could assume the document was authentic at the time because it came to them from a known or reliable source. In other words, they knew something of the document’s ‘provenance’ or chain of ownership. When documents (especially copies) appear with no obvious provenance, can we trust them as accurate and authentic records?

In the first of a series of articles about authenticity, CHART explores here one significant document whose provenance is unclear. In addition to inviting comment on the particular document, we also seek feedback and discussion on the general authenticity issue.

CAVR Library. Item TX294

The library of Timor-Leste’s Post-CAVR* Secretariat at Comarca/Balide in Dili holds a series of background documents from a wide variety of sources. Displayed in labelled magazine boxes, these documents are freely available for library users to browse and read.

A magazine box labelled ‘Fretilin’ contains a series of published and unpublished documents, including a photocopy of an untitled 53-page typescript item.

1981 Resistance re-organisation
This Portuguese-language document records the proceedings of a national conference held by the Fretilin-led East Timorese resistance in March 1981. The document reviews critically the conduct of the resistance since Indonesia’s 1975 invasion, describes the current situation and outlines future resistance structure and strategies. The document includes election results for formal positions within the organised resistance, including the election of Xanana Gusmao as Political Commissar and Commander of the armed resistance, Falintil. The document also records a formal Fretilin structural and name-change to Partido Marxista-Leninista Fretilin (PMLF).

This item is clearly a key source document on the restructuring of the formal East Timorese resistance in the wake of its decimation in 1978-79. Because the Post-CAVR Secretariat which holds this public copy has no record of the document’s origins, we need to examine it closely to attempt to establish its authenticity.

Click to view 1981 document

Authenticity – physical evidence
A viewing of the document raises some questions about its origins. Unlike many documents from Timorese sources in the 1980s, this document bears no stamps or signatures (but is attributed to Mau Hodu Ran Kadalak, Conference Secretary). The contents list (Indice) on the first page of the document includes reference to a 3-page ‘note on presentation’ but these pages are missing from the document. The otherwise untitled first page suggests the whole document may have originally included a formal cover.

It is not possible to determine from the document whether the first page and the missing introductory pages were part of the original typed record of the 1981 meeting or whether they were added by another party distributing the records. If the latter is the case, it would seem that the actual textual records of the meeting are retyped from the original versions (which introduces the possibility of errors or omissions). The document also appears to have two pages numbered ’37’.

Authenticity – content
Comparison of the document’s content with other accounts of the March 1981 meeting is one way to assess its authenticity. Both Sara Niner’s biography on Xanana Gusmao (1) and CAVR’s monumental report, Chega! (2), describe the meeting but do not cite this particular document. The principal source for these published accounts are largely writings and oral testimony by Xanana Gusmao, but other eye-witness meeting participants are cited.

There is significant agreement between the published accounts and the document. For example, the names of nine people elected to the Fretilin Central Committee (p.35) and the adoption of Marxism-Leninism (p.33-34) are also recorded in the published accounts. These and other concordances  lend significant weight to the document’s authenticity.

However, there are some puzzling questions remaining in the comparison of the content of the document with these other sources.

Chega!  (Chap.5, p.27) reports that this meeting reaffirmed the roles and positions of the Fretilin external delegation headed by Abilio Araujo in Lisbon and who was named as ‘Secretary General’ (of Fretilin). The meeting document, however, has scant mention of the external delegation and appears to name only one of its number, Mari Alkatiri, as the secretary of the Department of External Relations (p.38).

Page 46 Extract. Translation of first two sentences: The actual structure of power is the one which better responds in this period to the current situation in the country. Thus, at the national level, the Revolutionary Council of National Resistance is the highest level body which corresponds to the Party’s Central Committee whose head manager is the Commander-in-chief of FALINTIL.

Chega! (Chap. 5, p.27-29) and Niner (p.73-75) report the establishment at this conference of the Revolutionary Council of National Resistance (CRRN). According to Chega!, “The CRRN was intended to be the organisational vehicle for everyone who wanted to join the struggle to end the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste. The CRRN was in effect the PMLF’s invitation to all East Timorese regardless of party or other affiliation to join the resistance to the Indonesian occupation” (p.28). This is seen by both published sources as a landmark change in the direction of the organised resistance. Surprising, then, that the document does not appear to record any formal resolution on the creation of the CRRN. The new body is mentioned in the latter part of the text (page 46 – see text and translation above – & page 49), but with little explanatory detail.

While there are many possible explanations for these and other differences, the most obvious one is that the current document is not a complete set of all the original documents created to record the historic meeting of 1-8 March 1981.

Some questions
The evidence suggests that the document is at least a partial record of that special meeting in East Timor in March 1981. However, it is reasonable to ask the following questions.
1. Does there exist a complete copy of the document under discussion here?
2. If, as seems likely, this document is a packaged version of the original meeting records, who created it and when?
3. Do originals or photocopies of the original typed- or hand-written records of the March 1981 meeting exist.
4. Given that oral evidence on the meeting records more than can be found in the documents available here, is it possible that other documentary records of the meeting exist (or at least were created at the time)?

Answers to some or all of those questions will help future generations of East Timorese feel confident about the authenticity of this key document in the history of the formal resistance to the Indonesian occupation, 1975-1999.

See new information showing the document was created by Abilio Araujo in Lisbon in 1983, based on audio-cassettes smuggled from East Timor that year: June 2014 follow up article.

UPDATE (5 March 2016)
Now available: A Tetun translation of the 1981 meeting record. Many thanks to Nuno Rodriguez Tchailoro.



* Commission for Reception, Truth & Reconciliation

1. Sara Niner. Xanana: Leader of the struggle for independent Timor-Leste. Australian Scholarly Publishing. Melbourne. 2009.

2. Chega! The report of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in Timor-Leste (CAVR). 2005.

Credit: Thanks to Marisa Ramos Goncalves for translation of CRRN fragments of document.

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