East Timor is now officially known as Timor-Leste. The East Timorese call their land Timor Lorosae ("where the sun rises"). According to legend, the Timor Islands was a once a giant crocodile that a boy rode into the ocean. The Timorese people say they descended from a man who lived in a cave. Various sources refer to East Timor by a number of different names, reflecting the country’s historical experiences: Portuguese Timor, Timor Timur, Timor Loro Sa’e, Timor Leste, and East Timor. Its official designation is The Democratic Republic of Timor Leste. The Capital city is Dili.

East Timor has a history of dependence, first on Portugal, then on Indonesia and then on the United Nations and then on NGOs and foreign aid. On May 20, 2002 Timor Leste became an independent nation. This newly acquired freedom was gained after East Timor’s experiences of Portuguese presence from the middle of the 16th century to 1975, Indonesian occupation between 1975-1999, and United Nations’ administration from end of 1999-May 2002. [Source: Andrea K. Molnar,Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 , seasite.niu.edu/EastTimor]

The Dutch in the region eventually resulted in an 1859 treaty in which Portugal ceded the western portion of the island. Imperial Japan occupied Portuguese Timor from 1942 to 1945, but Portugal resumed colonial authority after the Japanese defeat in World War II. East Timor declared itself independent from Portugal on 28 November 1975 and was invaded and occupied by Indonesian forces nine days later. It was incorporated into Indonesia in July 1976 as the province of Timor Timur (East Timor). An unsuccessful campaign of pacification followed over the next two decades, during which an estimated 100,000 to 250,000 individuals lost their lives. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

On 30 August 1999, in a UN-supervised popular referendum, an overwhelming majority of the people of Timor-Leste voted for independence from Indonesia. However, in the next three weeks, anti-independence Timorese militias - organized and supported by the Indonesian military - commenced a large-scale, scorched-earth campaign of retribution. The militias killed approximately 1,400 Timorese and forcibly pushed 300,000 people into western Timor as refugees. Most of the country's infrastructure, including homes, irrigation systems, water supply systems, and schools, and nearly 100 percent of the country's electrical grid were destroyed. On 20 September 1999, Australian-led peacekeeping troops deployed to the country and brought the violence to an end. =

On 20 May 2002, Timor-Leste was internationally recognized as an independent state. In 2006, internal tensions threatened the new nation's security when a military strike led to violence and a breakdown of law and order. At Dili's request, an Australian-led International Stabilization Force (ISF) deployed to Timor-Leste, and the UN Security Council established the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT), which included an authorized police presence of over 1,600 personnel. The ISF and UNMIT restored stability, allowing for presidential and parliamentary elections in 2007 in a largely peaceful atmosphere. In February 2008, a rebel group staged an unsuccessful attack against the president and prime minister. The ringleader was killed in the attack, and most of the rebels surrendered in April 2008. Since the attack, the government has enjoyed one of its longest periods of post-independence stability, including successful 2012 elections for both the parliament and president. In late 2012, the UN Security Council voted to end its peacekeeping mission in Timor-Leste and both the ISF and UNMIT departed the country by the end of the year. =

Books: The Redundancy of Courage (Timothy Mo) a well-written novel which explains the history of East Timor.

Ancient History

Ancient people at least passed through East Timor 30,000 years ago. Shells found in caves have been radio-carbon dated to that time. Pleistocene fishermen and Neolithic farmers took shelter in caves in the east coast of Timor. Some archeologist believed that Timor might have been a steeping on the trip by the first people to travel between Asia and Australia 40,000 years ago..

The first Melanesians settlers arrived on Timor more than 7,300 years ago. Their descendants, the Atoni and Tetum peoples, moved inland as Indonesian Malays migrated to the coast. Some isolated Atoni sultanates retained their autonomy into the 20th century.

In caves along the coast and in the jungles are some ancient cave paintings, the oldest of which are between 2,000 and 4,000 years old. In the paintings are images of hunters with spears, dancing red figures, hand stencils, lizards, men on horseback, turtle devouring fish. There are heart shapes, circles, spokes, suns and geometric designs in yellow, black, green and red .

Prior to the 14th century we have very limited knowledge of Timor. The Portuguese archaeologist Antonio de Almeida (1961, 1967) and Antonio Alberto Banha de Andrade (1968) discuss the early prehistory of East Timor, focusing on the stone tool traditions and rock cave paintings. Another archaeologist, Ian Glover, points to early hunting-gathering populations. Glover (1971) provides an approximate date of 11 500 BC for these people, based on the dating of the flaked stone tools they left behind. Early agriculture is present by around 3000 BC, according to Glover, which he attributes to the arrival of the initial wave of Austronesian populations. [Source: Andrea K. Molnar, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 , seasite.niu.edu/EastTimor]

Cliff Morris wrote: Timor has had sophisticated contact with the world for many centuries. The Belu (Tetun) empire extended its power over much of the island but after the Europeans arrived much of the old empire contracted to its present area of indigenous Tetun speakers. The Chinese were regular visitors long before the Portuguese arrived in Timor. The indigenous lunar calendar is similar to the Chinese, the Timor pony has Asian origins and existed in Timor before the Portuguese. The musical instruments are Asian in design and sound. It has been recorded in Chinese history that the Liurai at Besa Kama (the old Belu capital) paid a yearly tribute to China before the Portuguese Dominicans were on the scene in 1566. The attraction to Timor was because of its sandalwood, supposedly the best in the world. It was the sale of sandalwood that gave the Liurais their power and was the cause of their long past internecine wars. The Liurais wanted land - land that grew sandalwood, and with the land came people to harvest it. Sandalwood gave them the power to expand their empires. This greed of the Liurais caused their subjects to be involved in the danger of war. In the 16th and 17th centuries the Timorese had a reputation for being very warlike. The people of East Timor have a long long history of rebellion against their Portuguese colonial masters. [Source:, A Traveller's Dictionary in Tetun-English and English-Tetun from the Land of the Sleeping Crocodile East Timor, 2003]

Timor and Sandalwood

Timor was a major source of sandalwood. Over the years the trade was controlled by the Malays, the Makassarese and finally the Europeans. Due to the significance of sandalwood as a trade good in the history of Timor, Timor Island is mentioned by 14th century Chinese and Javanese documents (Rockhill 1915).

Sandalwood is an aromatic, fine-grained evergreen shrub or shrub found in southern India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and tropical islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. There are several species of sandalwood. White sandalwood, a tree that seldom exceeds 20 feet in height and a foot in diameter, is raised on plantations in India.

Sandalwood is prized by Chinese and other Asians for making carved and inlaid boxes, fans, combs and walking sticks. Buddhists use sandalwood powder to make incense burned at family shrines and temple alters. Hindus mix sandalwood with vermillion and use it to make marks on their foreheads. Indian princes have traditionally been cremated on sandalwood funeral pyres. Oil obtained from sandalwood chips is used in perfumes, cosmetics and medicines.

Timor has world's last remaining natural sandalwood forests. Sumba once had vast tracts of sandalwood forest, but there all gone now: cut down to make incense. Soap, perfume, essential oils are made sandalwood. Currently, there is a small craft home industry throughout East Timor, producing Catholic rosaries, Muslim prayer beads, intricately carved fans, among other items from sandalwood.

Timor Before the Arrival of Europeans

Timor was linked in the trade network of China and India via Java and Sulawesi islands of Indonesia. Aside from sandalwood, honey, wax and slaves were also exported. Coastal people were sometimes taken as slaves by pirates and coastal raiders. Farmers who lived inland were relatively untouched by the outside world.

Andrea K. Molnar of Northern Illinois University wrote: “European explorers’ records also made note of the extensiveness of the trade (Dames 1921 and Pigafetta 1969 in Fox 2000:6-7). According to early European contact documents, the various cultures of East Timor were organized into small chiefdoms, or princedoms (e.g. Felgas 1956, Hicks 1976, Traube 1986). Thus, East Timor was not a nation but made up of many different cultural groups and many different chiefdoms. There existed a complex ritual, marriage and economic alliance among some of these cultural groups. For example, among the various clans of the Tetum, Bunaq and Kemak ethnic groups that are spread over an area that now is divided by a national border between Indonesia and East Timor. The Atoni developed princedoms. [Source: Andrea K. Molnar, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 , seasite.niu.edu/EastTimor <>]

These groups had affinity to the Wehale kingdom of Timor (now in Indonesian Timor) where the island’s spiritual center of Laran, the capital of the Wehale kingdom, was located (cf. Therik 1995). That is not to suggest however that all these different cultural groups in East Timor always had harmonious relations. Oral histories collected during my field research among the Atsabe Kemak of Ermera district recount several incidences of feuds, wars, conquests and head hunting. Such violent confrontations arose for a variety of reasons including seeking access to fertile mountain land, land boundary disputes, disputes over marriage and marriage payments, or simply, perceived disrespect.” <>

Early Portuguese Rule in East Timor

East Timor was ruled by the Portuguese for 500 years. Spice traders from Portugal arrived in East Timor in 1511 and established an outpost there primarily to harvest sandalwood. The Dutch arrived in the southwest of Timor island in 1613. The Portuguese moved to the north and east. East Timor was the only part of Indonesia that was colonized by the Portuguese not the Dutch after the 17th century. The Portuguese and the Dutch fought over the island in 17th and 18th centuries. Portugal formally took control over East Timor after a Treaty of Lisbon was signed with the Netherlands in 1859. Portugal held on to East Timor mainly to reap profits from the region’s rich coffee plantations. The Dutch were centered mostly in Kupang. The interior of western Timor only came under direct Dutch control after 1912.

Andrea K. Molnar of Northern Illinois University wrote: “While Portuguese interests in Timor were mainly the sandalwood trade by the early 16th century, their presence in on the island was mainly through early Catholic missionaries (Gunn 2001; Felgas 1956; Matos 1974; Morais 1934; Vasconcelos 1937). By 1515 a few Dominican priests introduced Roman Catholicism. However, the 1556 arrival of the Dominican friar, António Taveira, marked officially the commencement of a more widespread missionising effort. The Church’s effort concentrated on the north and south coastal chiefdoms during the late 16th century. It should be emphasized, however, that these are only a handful of priests setting up isolated Catholic missions and it takes them almost 100 years (by 1640) to set up 10 missions and 22 churches on Timor. Therefore, initially it is not a Portuguese colonial administration or trading posts or military garrisons that are present on Timor Island. These kinds of Portuguese penetration happen gradually and in reaction to Dutch and Portuguese relations in the neighbouring islands and then in west Timor. Thus it is not appropriate to talk about Portuguese colonialism starting in the 16th century. Therefore, it may be useful to briefly overview the process by which the Portuguese gain and enhance their foothold on Timor island and when and if one may talk about colonialism (Fox 2000). [Source: Andrea K. Molnar, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 , seasite.niu.edu/EastTimor <>]

“By 1566 the Portuguese had a base in a fortress built by Dominican friars on Solor Island North of Timor (Taylor 1994:3-5, Fox 2000:9-12, McWilliam 2002:50-55). From this base they started their annual trips of sandalwood collection to Timor. After the Dutch captured the fort in 1613, the Portuguese relocated their base to Larantuka in the eastern part of Flores Island. There the Portuguese remained in form control and consolidated their rule through a group “which was to dominate Timor’s development in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries” (Taylor 1994:3). The Dutch called this group the Topasses who were descendants of Portuguese soldiers, sailors, `and traders who intermarried with native women on Solor Island. From Larantuka this group controlled trade networks between Solor, Timor, and Larantuka, including the profitable sandalwood trade (ibid.). Their power was aided by the Dominican friars. Through the process of trade the Topasses commenced settling Timor Island gradually with a respectable presence by 1642. As pointed out earlier, up to this point there were a few scattered missions in the coastal regions of Timor. However, by the middle of the 17th century the Portuguese penetrated the island in strength. At first they took control of the coastal regions and gradually extended their influence into the interior (Taylor 1994:4). The justification for the 1642 forceful invasion of Timor was to protect the newly Christianized chieftains of the coastal regions. However their quick and brutal victory was also highly strategic. Thus the advance Christianization also prepared the Timorese for the arrival of the Portuguese and hence encountering limited resistance from the indigenes. The Portuguese quickly invaded the kingdom of Wehali, as they considered it the religious and political center of the entire island. After this victory the flow of Topasses to Timor was continuous and increased. The center of Topasse community was in Lifau (currently Oecussi district). From this base the Portuguese attempted to put down any opposition to their authority that would threaten their trade—whether from local rulers and chieftains or from the Dutch.” <>

East Timor was the first landfall for Captain Bligh, of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, after spending 41 days adrift in the South Seas.

Fighting Between the Dutch and Portuguese in East Timor

Andrea K. Molnar of Northern Illinois University wrote: “In 1653 the Dutch defeated the Portuguese military post in Kupang (West Timor) and with a heavy military force took over in 1656, however, their sphere of influence on Timor remained restricted to the Kupang region. Portuguese (Topasse) controlled the sandalwood trade through their local allies who resisted the Dutch. The Topasses were engaged in a triangle of conflict during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The Portuguese merchants with the sanction of the Portuguese crown tried to take over the control of the sandalwood trade. The Dominican friars also tried to build their own independent power base on Timor. The Timorese kingdoms periodically rebelled against both Topasse and Portuguese merchants. However, all united in opposition to the spread of Dutch influence (Taylor 1994:4). [Source: Andrea K. Molnar, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 , seasite.niu.edu/EastTimor <>]

“The Portuguese crown’s attempts to gain complete control over Timor through their colonial government outpost in Goa were thwarted numerous times during the late 17th century and continued to fare the same during the 18th century. As Fox (2000:11) explains: In 1701, Antonio Coelho Guerreiro was sent to be governor. He made Lifao the official Portuguese settlement in 1702 and managed to maintain his position for more than two years until he was also expelled …..In 1722, Antonio de Albuquerque Coelho was appointed but was besieged for long periods of time while the Topasses continued to control the trade in sandalwood from the interior of Timor. <>

“The Topasses tried three more times to drive the Dutch out of Timor. The Portuguese and the Dutch often cooperated in trying to bring the descendants of Portuguese and natives (Topasses, or also referred to as black Portuguese) under control. On August 11 1769 the Portuguese governor, Antonio José Telles de Menezes was forced out of Lifao (current Oecussi) by the Topasses (ibid.). This precipitated the establishment of a new Portuguese settlement in Dili (the current capital of Timor Leste).” <>

Partition of East and West Timor

In 1749, Timor was split into western and eastern parts following fighting between the Portuguese and Dutch. Portuguese take the eastern half. The Timorese people were caught in the tug-of-war of political-economic struggle between the Dutch and the Portuguese—a struggle that precedes the colonial presence of either power on Timor.

Andrea K. Molnar of Northern Illinois University wrote: “Neither Portuguese nor Dutch colonial influence could be firmly established on Timor until the 19th century and only with continuous and heavy military force. Once penetrating the interior of the island, the Portuguese mainly governed indirectly through the local rulers or kings called the liurai. The East Timorese were not too complacent with Portuguese presence and military heavy-handedness. A number of revolts have been recorded. The Atsabe rulers (in current Ermera district) tended to be rebellious against the Portuguese and the Portuguese presence also contributed to the local dynamics of indigenous leadership struggle. Between 1847-1913 the Portuguese had to mount more than 60 armed expeditions in order to subdue the Timorese in the interior of the island (Pélissier 1996). Interestingly a number of these revolts occurred in the western part of East Timor. We will return to this point shortly below. [Source: Andrea K. Molnar, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 , seasite.niu.edu/EastTimor <>]

“This tug-of-war over the control of sandalwood trade between the two European powers led to the gradual partitioning of the island into two spheres of influence. However, according to Fox (2000:12) the two powers had a different conception to how the island was divided between them. In the middle of the 18th century the Portuguese viewed Timor as consisting of two halves. The western half (much smaller than the eastern half) consisting of 16 local kingdoms in the province of Servião which was controlled by the Topasses. The eastern half formed the province of Bellum and was comprised of 46 kingdoms. The Portuguese were occupying Dili in the eastern half. The Dutch on the other hand, claimed large parts of Portuguese Timor, based on a dubious political document called the Contract of Paravicini, which was claimed to have been signed the king of Wehali in 1756 on behalf of all rulers of Timor (ibid). <>

“In 1846 the Dutch initiated a dialogue with the Portuguese to acquire Portuguese territories, but in 1851 the Portuguese declined their offer. In 1851 the Portuguese governor in Dili, Lima de Lopes, came to an agreement with the Dutch on the demarcation of colonial boundaries in Timor without authorization from Lisbon (Portugal), with the western half ceded to the Dutch. Another aspect the treaty was the selling of eastern Flores and subsidiary islands to the Dutch. Needless to say the governor was terminated in disgrace by Portugal when Lisbon learned of his actions (ibid). But the agreement could not be changed and thus the treaty of boundary demarcation was negotiated in 1854 and ratified in1859. The various traditional kingdoms of Timor Island were listed under Dutch or Portuguese authority. This treaty had several problems. <>

“As Fox (2000:16) points out, It [the treaty] left two landlocked enclaves…in each other’s territory. How was authority to be exercised if access was limited? More uncertain still was the fact that demarcation was based on a division of native states whose mutual boundaries were not determined. The size of the different enclaves and exact boundary between East and West Timor came to rest on a variety of local traditional claims to territory. <>

“It took three more conventions (1893, 1904, 1913) between the Dutch and the Portuguese governments to finesse these boundary issues. The final ratification of the boundary demarcation treaty did not occur until 17 August 1916 in The Hague. The aforementioned haggling over the boundaries between the Dutch and Portuguese and the differences of opinion as to which native populations belonged to the Western and Eastern part of Timor had significant effect on the current delimitation of Indonesian Timor and East Timor. As per the final treaty of 1916, during the 20th century the Dutch controlled part of Timor was to become part of the Republic of Indonesia, while the Portuguese controlled part of Timor became the current Democratic Republic of Timor Leste. Boundaries put down by foreign states affected the lives of the Timorese people in many ways as it will be discussed further below. It should also be noted that the border cuts certain populations in half, populations that were part of, or closely allied with the Wehali kingdom (in the Portuguese province of Bellos). Thus, we find Northern Tetun, Bunaq and Kemak populations on each side of the border. Thus far I have only discussed the history as written and conceptualized by western (either Dutch or Portuguese) historical sources. The division of Timor is viewed somewhat differently by the Timorese themselves. It would only be fair to give a short excerpt from oral representations of Timorese.” <>

Local East Timorese People Under Portuguese Rule

Andrea K. Molnar of Northern Illinois University wrote: “The Portuguese did not have direct rule over the local populations but tended to rule through local kings and chiefs, and indeed these indigenous elite would not be shy about rebelling against their colonial allies when it suited their political ends. As mentioned before, the 19th century heralded numerous indigenous uprisings against the Portuguese. During the late 19th century the Portuguese attempt to establish effective control over their colony in terms of political control. The Portuguese recognized that political authority was at the time still very much in native control and a function of indigenous political, economic and ritual alliances among local kingdoms and chiefdoms. Such alliances were propagated through kin relations. “There has not yet been a single rebellion against the Portuguese flag which is not based in the alliances which result from marital exchange” Foreman (1978). The Portuguese viewed this state of affairs as a major road block to control the East Timorese. Between the late 19th century and early 20th centuries the Portuguese devised and implemented new policies that were supposed to break the monopoly of the local traditional political system. There were two major components to this strategy. One was of an economic nature and the other of an administrative nature. [Source: Andrea K. Molnar, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 , seasite.niu.edu/EastTimor <>]

“On the economic front they introduced policies of forced East Timorese labor for road construction and the introduction of cash crop plantations (such as coffee plantations in Ermera in 1899 and copra between 1911 and 1917). In 1908 they also levied a head tax on all East Timorese males between the ages of 18-60 (Taylor 1994:11). The other component of the strategy was the abolition of local kingdoms and the position of the liurai (king, chief). The new Portuguese administrative units were based on the units below the kingdom level in the indigenous political structure, the suco. The election (or more often confirmation) of leaders of the suco was subject to the approval of the Portuguese. There were also two more levels of administration created. A group of sucos comprised a posto and these posto were grouped into the concelho. The concelho controlled the postos through Portuguese administration (ibid). Through this re-organization the Portuguese aimed to break down the traditional authority and introduce authority that was not dependent of kinship alliances.” <>

Andrea K. Molnar of Northern Illinois University wrote: “These Portuguese policies had varied impact in consolidating control over the East Timorese. The cash crop initiative had very minor impact socially. The forced labor however was one source of continuous rebellion against the Portuguese. One of the great rebellions that East Timorese mentioned even today was that which united several kingdoms and was organized by Bonaventura, the king of Manufahi. This rebellion lasted 16 years and was finally defeated in 1912 with the Portuguese being forced to bring in troops from Mozambique (Angola in local accounts). East Timorese accounts estimate that over 3000 were killed and many more thousands captured and jailed. The political and administrative restructuring also did not change local ideology and practice. The heads of the suco still needed the local support and acknowledgment of the liurai (king, chief) kin group. Traditional hierarchies of power and authority continued sanctioned by local cultural worldview and practices. A two-tiered system was created—colonial administrative and indigenous. <>

“In the early 20th century the Portuguese also began to incorporate some East Timorese into the clerical administrative system. Portugal centralized political control of its colonies in 1930. According to The Colonial Act of 1930, all colonies were brought under the direct control of Lisbon. “Legislative councils were set up representing local colonial elite interests: the administration, the church, Portuguese plantation owners and the army” (Taylor 1994:12-3). During this period, under Antonio Salazar, the Portuguese also officially classified people in East Timor into two categories: indigenes and nao indigenes. The latter category included mesticos and assimilated natives. Portuguese citizenship was open to this latter group and they had the right to participate in elections voting for Portuguese National Assembly and local legislative councils (ibid). This latter group of people was in administration and business or simply spoke Portuguese and had sufficient income—they comprised the local political elite. The Catholic Church was incorporated in to the local Portuguese administration and charged with the education system after 1941. The Catholic Church was instrumental in imparting Catholic and Portuguese cultural values. <>

Headhunting in Colonial East Timor

In a review of the “Headhunting and Colonialism. Anthropology and the Circulation of Human Skulls in the Portuguese Empire, 1870-1930" by Ricardo Roque, Mary Bouquet of Utrecht University wrote: “Collections of human remains constitute perhaps the most problematic legacy of nineteenth-century anthropology for contemporary museums. Anthropology as the science of the skull was dominated by French, British, and German scientists in the heyday of imperial collecting. Anthropological objectification of the human cranium, from the 1860s to the 1880s, revolved around the belief that this was the best material for studying race and ancestry. The natural history of man was then dominated by the classification of race based on physical characteristics, notably the form of the skull. Enter the Coimbra- Timor collection of crania. [Source: Mary Bouquet, Utrecht University <=>]

“Ricardo Roque’s multi-sited study centres on the biographies of a collection of 35 human skulls sent, in 1882, from the Portuguese colony of East Timor to Coimbra University. He provides a compelling account of the place of headhunting in colonial warfare and ceremonial government in East Timor. Drawing on Bruno Latour’s notion of the circulatory system whereby science and society are inextricably linked, Roque conceptualizes colonial headhunting as vitally connecting colonizers and colonized. The fragility of colonial rule in this remote corner of the Portuguese empire is reflected by the fact that irregular troops under the command of Portuguese army officers included Timorese head-hunters. Portuguese officials depended on alliances with the aristocratic and military classes of the surrounding kingdoms whose leaders were invested with ceremonial office in exchange for vassalage and support. These arrangements meant that the Portuguese became jural rulers of worldly affairs while the Timorese remained the supreme lords of sacred affairs. Roque observes that ceremonialism was “the heart of an artful management of stylized behaviours and the symbolic power of colonial authority. Colonial government was the government of ceremonial” (p. 68). The colonial justice system that meted out punishment for rebellion offered Timorese warriors an occasion to practice traditional headhunting against enemies of the Portuguese. Some of the heads severed in these colonial wars went, at a certain moment, beyond local circulation to become part of a transnational movement between colony and metropole. How did this happen? <=>

“Headhunting customs were not colonial atavisms, Roque argues, but rather the “quintessence of colonialism in practice” (p. 7). The perceived connection between headhunting and fertility, whereby the plundering of villages and taking of slaves were seen as a ‘harvest’ that empowered the victors while inflicting great loss and misery on other groups, was pragmatically used by the colonial administrators. Victorious campaigns against rebels were followed by ‘head-feasts’ which were attended, albeit reluctantly, by Portuguese officials. Although the latter attempted to create and maintain a boundary between themselves and such ‘barbarities’, in practice this proved difficult to sustain given the weakness of colonial rule. Roque develops the conceptual framework of ‘mutual parasitism’ to account for the entanglement between the colonial power and indigenous cultures in the practice of headhunting during late nineteenth-century pacification campaigns. This approach extends the term ‘parasitism’ (coined by Michel Serres) to examine the symbiotic dynamics underlying colonial violence and the exercise of European rule in indigenous societies. Colonial power, seen in this way, is based on vulnerability. Mutual parasitism makes it possible to explain the complexities of intercultural exchanges taking place between colonialism, headhunting and anthropology in the case of East Timor, 1880-1930. <=>

“The Coimbra skull collection can be traced back to the 1877 request from Lisbon to the governor of Macão to assemble raw materials and manufactured goods aimed at proving the productive wealth of Macau and Timor. Unlike commercial products, such as coffee, sandalwood, and gold, the 35 crania travelled without papers. Similarly, the crafted cartridge boxes used by Timorese warriors had no description and were virtually unclassifiable. The skulls do appear in the List of objects despatched, as ‘Number 197. Name: Human skulls. Provenance [Naturalidade] Timor’. It was in Coimbra, where they were sent for their scientific interest, that the skulls were inscribed on the right parietal with a number (from 1 to 35) and the words ‘Colecção de Timor’. <=>

“The collection was to be the focus of a bitter controversy among Portuguese scholars concerning classification of the Timorese as Papuan or Malayan ‘races’. Coimbra student Cunha published a paper in 1894 where he argued that the Timorese were ‘Papuan’ according to the line drawn by A.R. Wallace in the Malay Archipelago (1864). The Porto scholar, Mendes de Correia, disputed this classification in 1916, insisting that the Timorese were Malayan or Indonesian – in terms of the colonial anthropology that had supplanted museum-based studies of crania on which Cunha’s argument was based. A former colonial officer then joined the fray casting aspersions on the authenticity of the collection. He evoked the story of skulls having been gathered from a sacred tree at Cová in 1895, after a notorious defeat of government forces. Roque argues that the processes of classification and story-telling were still more complex imbrications of a series of historical agents. He deftly unravels the processes of purification that extended to Portuguese severed heads which were carefully recovered and provided with redemptive national heroes’ burials in Lisbon. It is difficult to imagine a starker contrast with the punitive conversion of enemy heads destined to become scientific specimens in Coimbra. <=>

Book: “Headhunting and Colonialism. Anthropology and the Circulation of Human Skulls in the Portuguese Empire, 1870-1930" by Ricardo Roque, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010

East Timor During World War II

Japanese invaded East Timor in 1942 and fought battles with Australian troops. Up to 60,000 East Timorese were killed. The Japanese occupied East Timor between 1942 and 1945 but the Portuguese returned after the end of World War II. Sunken ships off the coast of East Timor are evidence of the battles fought there in World War II.

Andrea K. Molnar of Northern Illinois University wrote: “According to Taylor (1994:13) the invasion of East Timor during World War II was precipitated not by the action of the East Timorese, or the Portuguese colonial government but two other European forces. In defiance of the Portuguese governor in Dili, 400 Dutch and Australian troops landed in East Timor in a pre-emptive attempt. Timor was considered as a buffer to Australia and must be prevented from being taken over by the Japanese. The Japanese viewed these actions as a clear indication that the Allied forces were to use Timor as a military base in the war. So the Japanese sent in 20,000 strong army to East Timor. [Source: Andrea K. Molnar, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 , seasite.niu.edu/EastTimor <>]

“By the end of the occupation some 60,000 East Timorese lost their lives either due to bombings by both sides or due to East Timorese support of Australian troops. There are still many stories one hears about this period today. People will volunteer their life history of this period and recount how a particular household, or village, or entire indigenous political alliance networks have aided, fed, housed, hid, and fought along Australian troops. They also readily recount stories of executions by the Japanese of Australian supporters. The brutalities of forced labor and systematic rape of women and beatings are still fresh in the minds of East Timorese.” <>

Comfort Women During the Japanese Occupation of East Timor

Stephanie Coop wrote in the Japan Times, “Ines de Jesus was a young girl during World War II when she was forced to become a sex slave, or “comfort woman,” for Japanese troops in the then Portuguese colony of East Timor. By day, de Jesus carried out various kinds of menial labor, and each night was raped by between four to eight Japanese soldiers at a so-called comfort station in Oat village in the western province of Bobonaro. While horrific, de Jesus’ experience with sexual abuse under military occupation is by no means unusual among East Timorese women, as a special exhibition at the Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward makes clear. [Source: Stephanie Coop, Japan Times, December 23, 2006 |::|]

Twenty-one comfort stations were identified by a team led by Kiyoko Furusawa, an associate professor of development and gender studies at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University. “Japanese landed in East Timor in February 1942 to oust a contingent of Australian troops that had entered the neutral territory the previous December, it ordered “liurai” (traditional kings) and village heads to supply women to serve the troops. Some of those who refused to comply were executed. “Women enslaved in comfort stations were forced to serve many soldiers every night, while others were treated as the personal property of particular officers,” she said. “Some women were specifically targeted for enslavement because their husbands were suspected of aiding the Australian troops. “As well as being physically and psychologically traumatized by the sexual abuse, the women were also made to work at tasks such as building roads, cutting wood, growing and preparing food, and doing laundry during the day, so they were constantly exhausted. They were also forced to dance and were taught Japanese songs to entertain soldiers,” Furusawa said. |::|

“Comfort women received no payment for their work and little or no food, she added. Family members either brought food to the comfort stations or the women were sent home to obtain it. There was little likelihood of women trying to escape at such times, she explained. “There were around 12,000 Japanese troops in a country with a population of only about 463,000, so the whole island was like an open prison. There was nowhere for the women to go, and at any rate, they were terrified about reprisals against their families if they did try to escape.” |::|

“Despite the gravity of the human-rights abuses documented in the exhibition, justice has yet to be achieved for the survivors. Japan’s system of sexual slavery was largely ignored in the war crimes trials conducted by the Allies after World War II, and a special court established by Indonesia to punish the atrocities committed by its troops and militias in 1999 failed to get a single rape indictment. |::|

“Citizen groups concerned about the lack of accountability for the wartime sex-slave atrocities convened a people’s tribunal in Tokyo in 2000 that found the late Emperor Hirohito and high-ranking Japanese military officers guilty of crimes against humanity. The verdict was later censored from an NHK documentary on the trial amid allegations by a major daily newspaper that two heavyweight Liberal Democratic Party politicians — Shoichi Nakagawa and Shinzo Abe — paid a less than comfortable visit to the public broadcaster before it was aired. Furusawa said that while the tribunal helped restore some dignity to victims by publicly acknowledging that the acts they were subjected to constituted violations of international law, only an official apology and compensation from the Japanese government will satisfy the survivors’ demands for justice.” |::|

East Timor After World War II

When Indonesia became independent in 1949, East Timor remained in Portuguese hands. West (Dutch) Timor became part of Indonesia in 1950. After the end of World War II the Portuguese re-establish their control over East Timor, while most other nations were undergoing decolonization processes. East Timor’s neighbor gained its independence from the Dutch in 1949. In Portuguese Timor, on the other hand, there was no talk of decolonization and with the Allied Forces complacence, Portuguese control continued. [Source: Andrea K. Molnar, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 , seasite.niu.edu/EastTimor <>]

Portuguese were indolent colonizers, the secret police nonetheless kept an effective check on dissent. Andrea K. Molnar of Northern Illinois University wrote: “During the post war period forced labor was increased as the infrastructure destroyed during the war had to be rebuilt. Each suco had to provide laborers for a month and the heads of sucos had extended powers to round up enough able bodied workers (ibid: 14). This forced labor indeed fermented a lot of resentment and a revolt occurred in Viqueque in 1959. This rebellion however was also influenced by external factors. It has been suggested that it was organized by Indonesian agents who wished speed Portuguese departure from the region and to integrate East Timor into Indonesia (Joliffe 2001, Taylor 1994). <>

“The Portuguese put down this revolt with brutality that killed around 1000 people and exiled a number of leaders to prisons in Angola and Mozambique. Joliffe (2001:45) reports on the account of Martinho da Costa Lopes, a priest who was a deputy in the Portuguese government and later became the first East Timorese bishop. He described how many of the people were killed were murdered in a public execution. In 1963 there were reports of the existence of a Bureau of Liberation of Timor Republic which while centered in Jakarta, Indonesia, claimed to have set up a government in Batugade in East Timor with twelve ministers—a government in waiting for decolonization. By late 1969 the Indonesian military viewed the prospects of a free East Timor as a security threat and they preferred to incorporate the island into the Indonesian republic if the rule of the Portuguese became unstable. Annexation became an important issue in the intelligence service of Indonesia, Australia, and the USA by the early 1970s (Taylor 1994:23). However, East Timor remained a Portuguese colony until 1975, by which time the Portuguese have much neglected this particular colony and were letting go of their other colonies.” <>

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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