An independent East Timor rediscovers its cultural heritageParis - As East Timor prepares to become an independent nation, on May 20, UNESCO Director-General Ko´chiro Matsuura has launched an appeal to the international community to help the young state preserve and enhance its cultural heritage.
Referring to massive destruction that followed the referendum on East Timor's independence in August 1999, Mr Matsuura declares in a letter to UNESCO's 188 Member States: "This heritage has been targeted because of its significance for national identity,which should on the contrary cause it to be safeguarded as a symbol of community and the promise of a shared future."
Appealing to governments to contribute to a "Special Account for East Timor Cultural Heritage Conservation", the Director-General says that those responding positively "will be contributing not only to the safeguarding, and restoration, of an important cultural heritage, but also thereby to the building and consolidation of a newly-independent nation which merits the international community's full support."
Since late 1999, UNESCO - in cooperation with the World Bank, the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), and the government of Portugal - has provided technical assistance to the restoration of Uma Fukun, the oldest Portuguese colonial building in Dili, which is to house the East Timor National Museum and Cultural Centre. Other UNESCO projects include training to improve local expertise, and the restoration of traditional houses, Uma Luliks, in the Fataluka area of East Timor, with financial support from various partners, and in collaboration with, the University of Melbourne, Australia.
Works salvaged from the old East Timor Museum, which was severely damaged and pillaged, will be displayed in Uma Fukun once it is restored. With help from the Australian Darwin Museum and Melbourne University, UNESCO has saved and restored a unique collection of 476 items that includes ancestral wooden statues, fragments of Neolithic pottery and Chinese porcelain. It is hoped that Timorese artefacts held in other countries would further enrich the collection in the near future.
As part of the independence celebrations, UNESCO opened an exhibition in Dili on May 14 about the growth of the city and the history of Uma Fukum. An agreement between UNESCO, the new government and Japan's International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is scheduled to provide for the training of ten local people to run the new museum. They will take courses in Dili and at the Osaka National Ethnology Museum in Japan. Funding for the project is to be equally shared by UNESCO and JICA, which will give $110,000 each.
UNESCO's activities in East Timor fall within the framework of the current UN Year for Cultural Heritage. The situation in the newstate highlights one of the Year's major themes: how cultural heritage can serve as a motor for national reconciliation.
In cooperation with the new government, UNESCO is also studying other projects to boost East Timor's heritage, including the development of cultural and tourism policies, and a blueprint to protect ancient spiritual sites and valuable marine resources, such as Jaco Island and Tutuala Beach, on the northeast tip of the island. There are also plans to preserve the country's intangible heritage, notably by recording typical examples of local music and oral tradition.
UNESCO has also been active in supporting local media development in East Timor. It provided material, training and expertise to help establish two first community radios, Radio Los Palos and Radio Malianas. It also helped set up the country's first professional journalist organization, the Timor Lores Journalist Association, by providing funds and expertise for a training programme run by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance.
For more information contact:
UNESCO Representative in Jakarta
Jalan M. H. Thamrin 14,
P.O. Box 1273/JKT, Jakarta
Tel: 00 62213141308 (Jakarta office).
Philippe Delanghe: firstname.lastname@example.org