sábado, 7 de fevereiro de 2009



Learning the Waima´a culture is one of the great things in East Timor. Talking about it is very vast, not just the language itself. One may easily understand the Waima´a as such, however, sometimes he/she finds very hard to enter deeply into their reality. It looks very simple and yet some of their expressions are very difficult to be imitated by any aliens. It seems quite complicated in certain things for the new comers who want to internalize their reality. In order to get used with the Waima´a language one has to grow up in their environment at the age below ten (10). Otherwise he/she would find difficulty to pronounce certain expressions/words. The Waima´a language is one of the Timorese cultural expressions, which is under threat (endangered) now because of its certain difficulty to access into written form as well as some oral expressions for aliens. The threat also caused by the lack of interest from the part of the Waima´a Diaspora, especially the students and migrants, to speak their own native language whenever they get together. Consequently, they don´t promote it. I am one of those who neglect to use Waima´a in our internal communication. Therefore, I feel guilty not to talk with my fellow Waima´a in our own native language. It is just a matter of mentality. First, we have to change such a mentality. Secondly, we need to promote and at the same time to develop it, at least into a written form though very hard it might be.

I am inspired by a documentation project of DoBeS Programme about the Waima´a as an endangered language in East Timor. This paper is just to enrich and to complete their perception about the Waima´a language. The language itself reflects culture of the people with its nuances and subtle expressions of themselves.

It is a native language, which has its strong affinities with Midiki/Kairui or Nau-ety. They are similar but they are not the same though they came from the same root (Austronesia). We can compare them with the Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, including French, which came from the same root (Latin) but there are very significant differences among them. In my opinion, the Waima´a was first spoken language in Baucau. Why not Makasae? Because Makasae is easier than Waima´a and the reference of most places of Makasae settings were named after Waima´a expressions.


When we talk about the point of reference of the Waima´a Culture, we have to think precisely because of its subtlety. There are nuances of the Waima´a cultural expressions which should highly be considered. A critical and analytical approach is needed. I remember once I read an article published in the site of Timor Online last year, the author quoted someone saying that “Waima´a” is referred to “Caicido”, a dry and poor village situated near the runway of Baucau Airport. He said that Waima´a means “dry land” as referred to such village. As a Waima´a speaker, I have no doubt to say that it is a wrong reference from a poor analysis and maybe a wrong source as well. The real and literal meaning of “Waima´a” is “empty water”. This reflects the culture of such people who use to fetch water from well-spring with bamboo pipes, earthen jars or vessels & saucepans. This is already fundamentally part of their customs and traditions even though they are living nearest to the water-spring.

Therefore, in my own point of view the reference of the Waima´a culture is precisely Baucau, as the center of its growth and development. Probably its nucleus is “Boilé”, a smallest village within Baucau itself. Caicido is just a branch of the village of Tirilolo, Baucau. According to oral story-telling the origin of Baucau is the tiny village of “Boilee”. The reason why I choose Baucau as the point of reference will be tackled below.

The Baucau district consists of six sub-districts such as: Baucau (Waukhau), Vemasse (Waimasi), Venilale (Brinilale), Laga, Quelicai (Kelekai) and Baguia (Ba´agia). I would like to describe the original names of various places as references to Waima´a domination in the past. Except Laga and Venilale, the names of four other sub-districts sound the Waima´a tongue. Beginning with Waukhau, it is derived from two terms wau means pig, khau most probably came from the word kha means eat or else another interpretation of Baucau derived from “bau” means a kind of wild potato, which is very itchy used as food for pigs, and kau is, a very difficult expression (even in spelling) for aliens, referred to chewing/masticating half cooked potato and cassava alike; therefore, Waukhau means eating pig, and Baucau means more or less as sound of chewing half cooked potato and cassava alike. Waimasi derived from the words wai means water and masi means sweet like mixed with salt, therefore, it means sweet water or salty water. Kelekai is derived from the words kele means foot and kai means tree, both words become one single meaning as “tree climber”. Ba´agia is derived from words ba´a in this context means swamp or very low terrain occupied by water, and gia means frog, both means swamp full of frogs, or frog in swampy terrain. Brinilale is related to Midiki/Kairui from the words brini means cold and lale in this context means within or inside, both mean within/inside cold territory. We may compare brini in Midiki and gníní in Waima´a (gniní is very hard to be pronounced by any alien), both are almost the same root which is ini. The word “lale” is the same pronounce and meaning in both dialects/tongues. Most probably Ba´agia is connected with Nau-ety.

Other names of Makasae speaking places, which I consider as references, are: Wai-oli, Wai-lili, Gariwai, Buolale, Laisorulai, Waimatale, Letemumu, Buru-umo, etc. Waioli means big water, Wailili means solid water (literally means waxing water), Gariwai means pulling water, Buolale means within areca nut trees/plantations (connected with betel vine), Laisorulai means lance against lance (war), Waimatalé means in between well-spring (water), Letemumu means walking through iron, Burumo means monkey´s house. There are many other proofs of cultural expressions all over the Baucau region which are typically Waima´a. How do we know that they are derived from Waima´a, not Kairui/Midiki or Nau-eti? The answer is very simple. In any linguistic development there are two important things which should highly be considered: or to simplify or to opt for other simple one, as a consequence they have to leave the former one. People tend to use something more simple rather complicated. The people of those places were originally Waima´a, then, later on they turned away from their own language because of a new development of language like Makasae. In my opinion, Midiki is a simplied Waima´a. I am not really familiar with Nau-ety, however, logically the waves of migration were usually coming from north and north-western toward south and south-eastern. What made Midiki/Kairui and Nau-ety are simple than Waima´a is most probably because of the change of mentality and the differences among the Waima´a speaking people at those moments influenced by the Makasae´s presence and other easier tongues. Every place, as I mention above, was named after the Waima´a expressions/words. They must highly be considered by the investigators.

Why did it happen then? And how could it be? In my opinion, based on my observation and analysis, at the beginning Baucau was dominated by the Waima´a Culture and Traditions. However, later on with the infiltration of Makasae people with their own culture, which is easier and simpler, they conquered the Waima´a language and dominated its territory. The conquest was not necessarily by means of war, however, it´s simply through implantation of their language and culture. They took advantage of Waima´a attitude in general as being very passive, not for confrontation. It was easier for the Makasae to conquer the Waima´a, however, they never removed its influences totally which had already deeply rooted in the region. The Makasae expressions are very simple and easy to be imitated, unlike many of the Waima´a expressions seem easy to be understood but they are very hard to be imitated. Most probably because of the difficulty of its nuances and subtleties, then, their new generations tended to opt for some easier expressions like Makasae, or else continued speaking Waima´a with simplification or modification, which later on named Midiki/Kairui or Nau-ety. It´s logically true because normally people incline to simplify things and choose to what is more accessible and develop it rather than opting for difficult one. In other word most of people want to become progressive rather than conservative. Those who still opted for Waima´a were conservative ones. Therefore, those who speak Makasae today are not all origin Makasae. They are probably generated from Waima´a origin, whose ancestors were Waima´a progressive opted for Makasae´s influences. We can notice this in their physical appearance and some figures of mental attitudes and approaches, including some cultural expressions and words. I may compare as an example: “Latin” is derived from Greek, the Romans opted for Latin rather than Greek, because it´s easier and simple than Greek. We may say that Latin is simplification from the Greek. Even today people opt to learn English rather than Latin or any other complicated languages. Therefore, history proves human tendency of moving from something complicated to something simplest, rather than from a simple thing to a complicated thing. With this, I consider the Waima´a tongue is constituted of many complicated forms of expression, which in its historical development turning toward easier, even softer, forms of expression like Midiki/Kairui. The Makasae tongue is simple than Midiki/Kairui, therefore in its development later on it became widely used. If we compare with Tetum, it´s commonly used by most Timorese because it is easier than other tongues exist in East Timor. Why not Tetum Terik? Tetum Terik is more difficult than Tetum Dili, therefore, people don´t opt for using it.

The mental attitude of Waima´a people is very passive, frank, less working and yet generous and kind, less confrontation, conservative but not radical-fanatic. If we compare with the young Waima´a today, especially the students or the intellectual, are showing negligence of promoting their cultural expressions or language. We could notice in their formal gatherings it´s very rare for them to use the Waima´a for communication. Unlike the Makasae people have a very strong concern about the matter, even their intonation itself already introduce them to us. Therefore, in my opinion there are two important reasons which endanger the Waima´a language:

1) Its complication from antiquity caused its speakers turned away to modify it to a simplified tongue like Midiki/Kairui and Nau-ety, and to opt a new tongue, which is very simple to be imitated like Makasae.

2) The attitude of negligence of the Waima´a people in its promotion and development. Lack of frequent use among them.

I do not agree that Waima´a is merely identified with Caicido. Even primitive people didn´t choose Caicido to settle in because there is no water at all. As far as I know about Caicido, it was a place for pasturing the sheep and goats of the people of Tirilolo, Bucoli, and Caibada. They had stayed near strategic places, which could provide them water, like Baucau, Caibada and Bucoli. Those people living in the plateau of Baucau were pastors, they stayed there temporarily. They had their own houses near the water spring. Later on they came to know the underground water for their cattle, especially goats and sheep, and always brought along with them water inside a pipe of bamboo or earthen jar together some sweet potatoes or cassavas reserved for themselves. In the afternoon they went back home in Baucau, Caibada, Bucoli and Bercoli, including Wailili and Gariwai. Sometimes they had to stay overnight with their sheep for some nights, this means some of their family members should bring them water and food otherwise they knew some underground water spring nearby. The permanent settlement in Caicido happened lately, when there was canalization of water from Bucoli by the Portuguese to the airport. And the rest of those settling in that long plateau have survived until now because of the late discovery about some underground water springs nearby their houses, like Ostico and Loilubo. There in the plateau have a lot of water beneath the rocks. Therefore, we cannot identify the Waima´a with the people of Caicido. The Waima´a setting like Baucau, Bucoli, Caibada and Bercoli, have abundance of water spring flowing out from beneath the rocky plateau. According to story-telling or witness of various legends (myths), the oldest settlement in Baucau was at Boilé.

In my conclusion, Baucau region was mainly Waima´a origin and spread toward south and south-east. Another recent proof is the tradition of monarchy from Vemasse had great influenced toward east (Quelicai, Laga, Baguia and up to Lospalos region). Such an influence had remained up to three decades ago (1975). Who had reigned over the Makasae was the Waima´a, not vice versa. This reveals that the Waima´a had great influence over Makasae for long period, most probably over thousands of years. We are only talking about Waima´a in relation with Makasae. The Waima´a and Midiki/Kairui, or Nauety, are obviously have their strong affinities, which challenge me to say that the latter are merely modification and simplification of the former. What we need to do now is to continue analyzing data and truths revealed by the myths and various hearsays all over the region. Through a continuous research we may find another new insight. This is just my own hypothesis based on such data analysis presented above. However, about the article which claimed that Waima´a is referred to Caicido is a very shallow and incomplete idea. The Waima´a is a complex expression of cultural tradition. The word “Waima´a” reflects a culture or tradition of fetching water and nothing to do with dry land of Caicido or the Baucau plateau as a whole. They had that tradition long before even though they lived very closed to water spring. Therefore, water jar made of earthen mud and bamboo pipes are very important for the Waima´a culture. Tradition of fetching water with those instruments is typically of Waima´a. With this, I finish my intervention while waiting for any other insights from the Waima´a intellectual in order to enrich our knowledge about the matter as a national heritage as well as the world.

Évora, 02/02/2009
Father Cancio, Jose Costa Gomes
A Waima´a speaker from Bucoli

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