Falintil: Building the archival record

August 20 is celebrated annually in Timor-Leste as the foundation day of Falintil*, the East Timorese resistance army. Falintil was founded in 1975, initially as a military wing of Fretilin, to fight in the brief civil war and then the many years of resistance to Indonesian military occupation which followed.

Timor Archives marks this event with a mention of two archival fragments on Falintil and some discussion on securing the archival record for future generations.

Snapshot of Tempo Semanal’s Falintil Album on Facebook.

To mark Falintil Day 2012, the East Timorese media organisation Tempo Semanal published almost 900 resistance-related images on its Facebook fan page. The photographs appear to range in time from 1975 to the early post-1999 referendum period. They include many portraits of Falintil leaders and troops and life in resistance areas.

Many of these historically important images are familiar; seen in private and public collections in Timor and internationally. Many of the images can also be seen in an online collection of East Timor’s Resistance Archive and Museum (AMRT). A 1975 set of images of Indonesian military forces in the album were featured last year on this website (see: Invasion 1975 – Photographs).

Long term archival questions
Tempo Semanal’s album is an eye-catching celebration and reminder of Falintil’s history. However, in common with similar collections of historical materials posted on Facebook and elsewhere, it is unlikely to serve as a reliable repository of archival information for future generations.

The problem with such collections is that they provide little or no information about image origins such as photographer, place, date and circumstance. Facebook users are invited or urged to add such information to the images in the online album. This is a marvellous opportunity to increase knowledge of the images, but who will take responsibility for making sure this data is kept for, and will be accessible to, future generations after Facebook disappears?

Timorese institutional solution?
Such information is most likely to be preserved by an archival institution equipped and dedicated to such tasks. Currently in Timor-Leste the AMRT leads the way in preserving and documenting archival records of the resistance, but it also has significant limitations. The Archive does not yet appear to have a regular system for seeking and recording additional information or data corrections from collection users.

What is needed is a system which not only displays archival collections but invites and allows knowledgeable users to submit missing information about individual items. Such a system needs institutional management and supervision and would be suited to organisations like the AMRT or the envisaged Institute of Memory or National Library.


Alarico Fernandes on early Falintil
We also present here a unique fragment of Falintil-related history – an audio recording of Alarico Fernandes describing some of the events in Aileu in August 1975 which were part of the formation of Falintil at that time. To listen, Click ‘play’ arrow below.

Attending a Timor strategy conference with Jose Ramos-Horta in Melbourne on 22-23 November 1975, Alarico gave a short account of the civil war and post-civil war Fretilin organisation. At the time, he was Secretary for Internal Affairs and Security in the post-civil war Fretilin administration. While the audio fragment does not decisively add new data to the known historical record of Falintil’s formation, its power lies in hearing the voice of a significant person in Fretilin’s and Falintil’s 1975-78 history.

Capturing Falintil history
The Alarico Fernandes fragment is one of an unknown number of related audio items on resistance history. Some date from 1975, others are recorded interviews with veterans during the post 1999 independence years. Many of these recordings are yet to find their way into institutional repositories for long-term preservation and access.

Alarico Fernandes is still alive but reportedly fragile in body and spirit. He, in common with many of the surviving original Timorese resistance generation, will not be with us forever. It is a matter of considerable urgency that the knowledge of the resistance generation is captured as fully as possible while it remains possible.

Ultimately this is a task for enthusiastic East Timorese and their emerging professional archival institutions.



* Falintil is the acronym for Forças Armadas da Libertação Nacional de Timor-Leste (Armed Forces for the National Liberation of East Timor).

Alarico Fernandes recording made by Timor Information Service, Melbourne, November 1975. Original in TIS archives.

One Response to Falintil: Building the archival record

  1. These images are of national importance to East Timor of the past, today, in particular, the future. They are an archive of the fight the East Timorese resistance army, Falintil.

    The government of East Timor, which is made up of former resistance fighters need to set aside funds to establish a permanent gallery or museum where these images can displayed for future generations.

    They also need to become part of the history curriculum in East Timor so the children can understand the struggle for freedom made by these men against the vicious Indonesian regime — a fight for independence over a 25 year period.

    These images are an integral part of the East Timorese character and its history.

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