“They’ll come at you with slingshots, machetes, sticks … ”
That’s a young Australian soldier describing the revenge-minded gang members, often in the pay of corrupt political parties, who comprise one of the greatest threats to stability in troubled, oil-rich East Timor.
Little, brown, usually friendly but highly adaptive and fearless in large numbers, Timorese thugs are a lot like Ewoks. (My comparison, not the Aussies’.) Like the vicious spacebears from Endor that helped defeat the Galactic Empire, they improvise deadly weapons from local materials. There are the rebar arrows I described in a previous post. Then there are crude cutlasses, dart guns and javelins – any of which could kill you, especially when wielded by an angry, 500-strong mob, as was the case recently when a New Zealand squad found itself swarmed by warring gang members. Shots were fired in that case, and the New Zealanders fortunately escaped.
On Tuesday I had lunch with some fellows from the Australian-New Zealand battlegroup, and they demonstrated some of these native weapons, using slingshots to shoot those rebar arrows into a wooden wall, each with a resounding THUNK. But my favorite Ewok weapon was a rifle-shaped block of wood with a “chamber” to hold a slim metal dart – and a spring mechanism made from tire rubber. Pull the trigger, release a catch, and the rubber propels the dart through the chamber like a hybrid of a crossbow and a rifle. Does it have the accuracy and range of a firearm? No. But this is a melee weapon, for use in crowded, close-range fights. This is Defense Technology at its most International … and most basic.
It could be worse. There are few guns in Timor and the local bad guys haven’t really figured out how to make roadside bombs … yet. Or how to commandeer Imperial Walkers. But like Ewoks, they can still kill you if they get close enough.