The massacre of Santa Cruz

Trip Start Oct 03, 2012
Trip End Nov 28, 2013

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Flag of Timor-Leste  , Dili,
Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A stroll through downtown Dili brought us to a place that plays a pivotal role in Timor Leste history.

It took a British camera man filming a funeral and peaceful independence rally at the Santa Cruz cemetery in the 1990's to act as a catalyst in changing the course of Timor Leste's claim for independence.

The ensuing massacre of civilians by Indonesian backed militia was extremely brutal and was shared with the worlds media very quickly after the event. The worlds media did its part, the UN was forced (slowly) into action and the curtain was finally drawn wide open on the lengthy, secret and violent oppression of the East Timorese by militias directly linked to Indonesia.

The Chega! Exhibition we visited yesterday goes into a lot of detail about how and why the massacre happened. In reality lots of people were murdered ferociously and secretly, and the Indonesian government in power at the time actively promoted oppression and murder to quash East Timorese resolve for independence. This had been happening to varying degrees since the Portuguese abruptly pulled out of their colonial responsibilities back in the 1970's after a revolution in their own country.

The cemetery is big and packed to the nines with ornate graves in a very disorganised fashion. Portugal is predominantly Catholic and so too is Timor Leste. A large proportion of graves in the cemetery are of Portuguese nationals who settled in Timor Leste when it was a Portuguese colony right back to the 1700's. Many of the family plots record genealogies to present day of once Portuguese families that grew into Timor Leste families as they married the native Timorese and had children. People here are deeply religious and whole families visit the graves of their loved ones to light candles and pray for their peace. The great majority of graves were well attended too and frequently visited and very ornate. Their were many families dotted around us tending to graves.

It's hard to believe that a massacre happened here so recently because it was such a quiet place.

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