West Timor

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Location of West Timor
Map of the island of Timor

West Timor ( Indonesian Timor Barat ) forms the western part of the politically divided island of Timor . In a narrower sense, this can refer to the Indonesian part of Timor as well as the Indonesian Timor, together with the exclave Oe-Cusse Ambeno , which belongs to the state of East Timor .


Administrative division of the Indonesian West Timor
Oe-Cusse Ambeno (to East Timor)

Most of West Timor belongs to the Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara with the capital Kupang on the western tip of Timor. The Indonesian western part of the island with 16,861.25 km² and 1,899,084 inhabitants (2017) is divided into the city of Kupang and the administrative districts ( Kabupaten ) Belu (capital: Atambua ), Kupang (including the offshore island of Semau ; capital: Kupang), South- central Timor (main town: Soe ) and north-central Timor ( Timor Tengah Utara ; main town: Kefamenanu ). On December 14, 2012, the south of Belus became the new administrative district of Malaka (capital: Betun ).

The area of Oe-Cusse Ambeno on the north coast with 814.66 km² and 65,524 inhabitants (2010) belongs to the state of East Timor .

West Timor owes its current appearance to an extremely turbulent geological past, which is characterized by large differences in altitude within short distances. More than 60% of the surface of West Timor consists of largely rugged low mountain ranges. Numerous rivers and rivers that drain the mountains and plateaus have dug deep, V-shaped valleys into the mountainous landscape. The highest mountain in West Timor is the Mutis ( 2427  m ).


In the rainy season, these rivers briefly turn into wild, torrential masses of water, which then lead to major traffic and communication problems. In the past, these isolated plateaus and mountain landscapes favored the emergence of politically relatively autonomous territories.


The languages ​​of Timor

Around 1.8 million people live in the Indonesian part of West Timor, and 68,913 people in Oe-Cusse Ambeno in East Timor (2015).

The Atoin Meto make up the dominant population of West Timor. The name Atoin Meto means something like native or local (indigenous) people ( atoni , human, meto , culturally internal , native, therefore not foreign). In addition, there are ethnic names such as Atoni Pah Meto , the "people of the dry land", a choice of name that refers to the settlement area, or just Meto. In the literature one finds the pejorative foreign names Dawan, Orang Gunung or Timorese , which can lead to confusion with the inhabitants of the independent East Timor. They live in the lower mountain regions of the hinterland, where they prefer heights between 500  m and 1000  m for agricultural reasons and colonize all of West Timor, with the exception of the administrative districts of Belu and Malaka on the border with neighboring East Timor. Mainly the ethnic groups of the Tetum , Bunak and Kemak settle here , the majority of whom otherwise live in East Timor. The various groups are linked to one another by a wealth of economic and social relationships.

Everyday and ritual clothing of the Atoin Meto in Kuan Fatu ( South Amanuban ) 1992

The languages ​​of Timor are divided on the one hand into languages ​​of the Austronesian language family (subgroup East Indonesian of the West Austronesian branch), on the other hand there are languages ​​of a non-Indonesian type (especially in the East), which are generally assigned to the Papuan languages . The Uab Meto , the language of the Atoin Meto, belongs just like Tetum and Kemak to the Western Australian languages, while Bunak is one of the Papuan languages.

In addition, the Helong and Rotinese languages, which are related to the Atoin Meto language, are spoken in the west of the island . Helong was the original language in Kupang, but has been largely replaced by Bahasa Indonesia and is only spoken in a few villages south of the city along the east coast and on the island of Semau . Rotinese, the language of the island of Roti, is split into many dialects. Rotinese are found in many regions of West Timor due to the resettlement program that the Dutch carried out in the 19th century.

Religion in West Timor

Dominican convent in Pante Macassar (Oe-Cusse Ambeno)
Animistic place of sacrifice in Niki-Niki , 1928/29

West Timor is one of the few areas in Indonesia that is mostly inhabited by Christians today. Religion plays an important role for the island's residents, as many residents want to differentiate themselves from the predominantly Muslim Indonesians.

Originally the Timorese were animists . The influence of Islam, which spread to Southeast Asia from the 15th century, did not reach Timor. In 1556 the first Dominicans settled and founded the Lifau (Lifao). The Dominican António Taveira promoted the proselytizing of Timor. The focus was on the kingdoms on the north and south coast in the late 16th century. By 1640 a handful of priests had already founded 10 missions and 22 churches in Timor. But there remained a minority who were converted to Christianity. Ancestor cult and belief in spirits remained widespread.

It was not until the middle of the 19th century that a major Catholic missionary work began for the locals, which, however, only showed its first success in the early 20th century with the conversion of 16 local princes. Protestant missionaries to West Timor also followed later. Today about 91% of the population of West Timor are Christian, 56% Catholic, 32% Protestant and 3% belong to other Christian churches. 8% are Muslim. The number of practicing Christians is very high, around 80 to 85 percent. However, a survey from 2001 showed that more than 70% of the population is still rooted in ancestral cult and belief in spirits.

In the east of West Timor and in Oe-Cusse Ambeno, the proportion of Catholics is significantly higher. 96.5% of the almost 500,000 people in the Atambua diocese are Catholic. The diocese of Atambua is subordinate to the archdiocese of Kupang . Oe-Cusse Ambeno belongs to the East Timorese Archdiocese of Dili .


Pre-colonial period

Warriors from the region around Kupang (1875). Stitch from the expedition report of the " SMS Gazelle "

The people of Timor came to the island as part of the general settlement of the region. Anthropologists assume that the descendants of three waves of immigration live here, which also explains the ethnic and cultural diversity of Timor. It is believed that Australo-Melanesians lived around 40,000 to 20,000 BC. Reached Timor from the north and west during the last ice age. The Atoin Meto , which dominate West Timor, are considered to be the descendants of this first wave of settlement, although their language is one of the Austronesian languages. Likewise the Helong , who originally settled the region around Kupang and were displaced by the Atoin Meto to the extreme western tip of the island. Around 3000 BC The Melanesians came from the west with a second wave of immigration and brought the oval ax culture to Timor. The Bunak in the border region to East Timor are among their descendants. The last peoples to immigrate to Timor in prehistoric times were the Malay peoples . There are different reports as to whether the Malays reached Timor in one or two waves. The Proto-Malays from southern China and northern Indochina probably reached Timor in 2500 BC. They spread across the archipelago under the pressure of the expansion of the Mongoloid peoples . Some scientists assume that around 500 AD the Deutero-Malay (who emerged from the intermingling of the Proto-Malay with the Mongoloid peoples) became the dominant population in the entire archipelago and also reached Timor. The Tetum, who settle in East West Timor and form the largest ethnic group in East Timor, are descendants of the Malay immigrants, as are the Kemak who live on the border .

West Timor's dominant population, the Atoin Meto, owes recent cultural contacts to the interest of various Asian ( India and China ) and European ( Portugal and Netherlands ) traders in the island's once very rich sandalwood stocks . This centuries-old sandalwood trade with Southeast Asia also left its mark on the Timorese cultures. All buyers of Timorese sandalwood have left their mark from a cultural point of view.


In 1512 (other sources mention 1509 or 1511) the Portuguese navigator António de Abreu was the first European to discover the island of Timor in search of the Spice Islands . When the first Portuguese reached Timor, they found the population divided into many small kingdoms (indones. Kerajaan ) that were relatively independent of one another. The center of the island was ruled by the Wehale (Wehali) kingdom with its allies among the tribes of the Tetum, Bunak and Kemak tribes. The Tetum formed the core of the empire. The capital Laran in what is now West Timor was the spiritual center of the entire island. Following the Wehale model, a second kingdom emerged in West Timor, that of Sonba'i .

In 1556 the Dominicans founded Lifau, six kilometers west of today's Pante Macassar, to secure the sandalwood trade . Portugal first established a few garrisons and trading posts on Timor. It was only when the threat from the Dutch increased that the Portuguese began to develop their positions. Dutch traders first reached Timor in 1568.

In 1640 the Dutch finally built their first fortress on Timor near Kupang and the political division of the island began. The Portuguese began a large-scale invasion under Francisco Fernandes in 1642 to extend their control to the interior of the island. This procedure was justified, however, with the protection of the Christianized rulers of the coastal region. The previous Christianization supported the Portuguese in their quick and brutal victory, as their influence on the Timorese had already weakened the resistance. Fernandes first moved through the area of ​​Sonba'i and then quickly conquered the kingdom of Wehale, which was considered the religious and political center of the island. After the victory, the immigration of the Topasse continued to increase. They were mestizos whose ancestors were residents of the islands of Solor and Flores and Portuguese. The center of Topasse was Lifau, the main Portuguese base on Timor. Later the Topasse also settled inland near today's places Kefamenanu and Niki-Niki . Land was assigned to them by the local rulers and soon they formed their own local kingdoms, such as Noimuti , and became a power on the island. Two clans, the Hornay and the Costa , temporarily controlled large parts of Timor, which was not without conflicts between them.


The Empire of Kupang on a map by William Dampier , 1699

In 1640 the Dutch built their first fortress on Timor near Kupang and the political division of the island began. The bay of Kupang was considered the best natural harbor of the island. From 1642 a simple fort again protected the Portuguese post. Two Dutch attacks failed because of him in 1644. For better defense, the Dominicans under Antonio de São Jacointo built a new fortress in 1647, but in 1653 the Dutch destroyed the Portuguese post and finally captured it on January 27, 1656 with a strong force under General Arnold de Vlamigh van Outshoorn . However, due to heavy losses, the Dutch had to withdraw from the fortress immediately after they had followed the Topasse outside Kupang. The Dutch sphere of influence was temporarily limited to this region of Timor, apart from Maubara , which fell to the Dutch in 1667. Until the final conquest of the Portuguese fortress in the Bay of Kupang in 1688, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) concluded treaties with the five small rulers in this area, the "five loyal allies" ( Sonbai Kecil , Helong , Amabi 1665, Amfo'an 1683 and Taebenu 1688). In the middle of the 18th century, Timor was divided into two halves from the Portuguese perspective. The smaller western part consisted of the Servião province with 16 local kingdoms and was controlled by the Topasse. The eastern half was the province of Belu (Bellum) and consisted of 46 kingdoms. The Topasse also tried three times to drive the Dutch from Timor. However, when an attack by the Portuguese and Topasse on Kupang in 1749, despite their superior strength, ended in disaster, the rule of both in West Timor collapsed. At the battle of Penfui (now the Kupangs airport is located there ) the Capitão-Mor Gaspar da Costa and many other leaders of the Topasse were killed. A total of 40,000 warriors of the Topasse and their allies are said to have perished. As a result of the defeat, the rule of the Portuguese and Topasse in West Timor collapsed. In April 1751 Liurais rose from Servião; According to a source, Gaspar is said to have died here. In 1752 the Dutch attacked the Amarasi Empire and the Noimuti Topasse Empire . This attack was led by the German Hans Albrecht von Plüskow , who was the Dutch commandant of Kupang. He was supposed to perish in Lifau in 1761 by a Topasse murder plot. The Dutch also used this campaign to hunt slaves to meet the needs of the plantations on the Moluccas . In 1752 the Bishop of Malacca branded the Dutch trade in slaves, who were also sold to the Chinese and Arabs, as a crime that would lead to excommunication among Catholics. In 1755 the Dutch East India Company (VOC) sent Johannes Andreas Paravicini to negotiate agreements with the rulers of various of the Lesser Sunda Islands. In 1756, 48 minor kings of Solors, Rotis , Sawus , Sumbas and a large part of West Timor made alliances with the VOC. This was the beginning of Dutch rule in what is now Indonesian West Timor. Including a certain Jacinto Correa (Hiacijinto Corea), King of Wewiku- Wehale and Grand Duke of Belu , who also signed the dubious Treaty of Paravicini on behalf of 27 areas dependent on him in central Timor . Fortunately for the Portuguese, Wehale was no longer powerful enough to pull all local rulers to the side of the Dutch. The eastern former vassals of Wehales remained under the flag of Portugal, while Wehale itself fell under Dutch rule.

Replica of a Dutch East Indiaman from 1748

On August 11, 1769, the Portuguese governor António José Teles de Meneses was forced to leave Lifau by the Topasse. The new capital of the Portuguese on Timor was Dili in the east of the island. The Topasse Francisco da Hornay offered Lifau to the Dutch, but they turned it down after careful consideration.

The power of the Dutch remained limited in the West, however, and was primarily in the hands of their Timorese allies. In 1681 the Dutch conquered the western island of Roti, from where slaves were brought to Timor. The Dutch also recruited soldiers for their army and built schools there after the local ruler converted to Christianity in 1729. The Rotinese became a well-educated elite. In order to use this as a counterweight to the Timorese, the Dutch encouraged their immigration to West Timor, so that they are still present here today.

But the Dutch also struggled with rebellions in the 1750s and 1780s. Worst of all was the renewed loss of Great Sonba'i . The ruler Kau Sonbai broke openly with the Dutch from 1783, left Kupang and reestablished Sonba'i as an independent empire inland by constantly playing off Dutch and Portuguese against each other. Klein-Sonbai remained under Dutch control. The reason for the rebellions were probably the deficiencies in the administration of the VOC, which now came to light with the expansion of the domain. After 1733 the VOC had an acute shortage of staff due to the malaria epidemic in Batavia. The situation was even worse in Kupang, where mortality among Europeans was particularly high due to malaria. Paravicini, of all people, who had praised the VOC so much in his contract, described their staff as bad, dishonest, greedy, cruel and disobedience would rampant with him. They forced the local rulers to buy goods at outrageous prices and opperhoofd (settlers) took out the impoverished Rajas. The Timorese empires were forced to deploy troops and 200 men a year to panning for gold in the mountains. Neither the military expeditions nor the gold prospect brought the desired success. Instead, discontent among the Timorese increased. Also because accidents while searching for gold could also be dangerous for the regents. A Dutchman reported in 1777, when five gold mines collapsed, that relatives of the victims could take revenge on the rulers who sent them to look for gold. There were also problems with corruption and also with the Mardijkers , the Dutch equivalent of the Topasse, but most of them did not accept the Christian faith. They were seen as an arrogant group eager to expand their influence in the region.

William Bligh reached Kupang with his followers in 1789 after being abandoned at sea during the mutiny on the Bounty .

Noimini Bay on the south coast of West Timor. Photo of the Siboga expedition by Max Wilhelm Carl Weber (1899/1900).

In 1790, a rebellion in Sonba'i and Maubara was put down by the Dutch, but the colony remained troubled until the 19th century and the Dutch were unable to take control of the interior of the island. In 1799 the Dutch East India Company went bankrupt and the Dutch government took control of West Timor without showing any great interest in the economically uninteresting and distant Kupang. The trade was primarily carried out by the Chinese.

In 1797 the English tried to occupy Kupang because it was feared that France might establish itself here . The British were driven out by the Dutch commandant with the help of locals and slaves. During the Napoleonic Wars , the English succeeded in occupying Kupang in 1811. In 1812 British control was extended to all of Dutch West Timor. Only after the return of the Orange to the Dutch throne did the Dutch officially get their Timorese possessions back on October 7, 1816. As early as 1815, Dutch troops had tried unsuccessfully to bring the rebellious Raja of Amanuban (Amanubang) back under their control. He was a Christian ruler in West Timor who had been trained in Kupang and had also visited the Dutch colonial metropolis of Batavia . In 1816 a second military expedition failed catastrophically due to the Timorese guerrilla tactics. 60 Dutch soldiers lost their lives, while the rebels only lost six. Until 1915, the Dutch had to send military expeditions inland almost every year to pacify the local population, mostly against the Amanuban Empire.

In 1851 the Portuguese governor José Joaquim Lopes de Lima came to an agreement with the Dutch on the colonial borders in Timor, but without authorization from Lisbon. In it, the western part, except for the Oe-Cusse Ambeno exclave, was ceded to the Dutch. Needless to say, the governor fell from grace and was ousted when Lisbon found out about the treaty. But the agreements could not be reversed, even though the Treaty on Borders was renegotiated in 1854 and was only ratified as the Treaty of Lisbon in 1859 . The various small kingdoms of Timor were divided under Dutch and Portuguese authority. However, the contract had some weak points. One enclave with no access to the sea remained in the territory of the other side. In addition, the imprecise borders of the Timorese empires and their traditional claims formed the basis for the colonial demarcation.

Dutch (orange) and Portuguese Timor (green) 1911, as seen from the Netherlands

From 1872 the Dutch left "internal affairs" to the local rulers, who were thus able to continue unhindered slave trade and piracy and raids other places. In 1885, however, Sonba'i, one of the larger empires of West Timor, fell into anarchy after the Raja's death. When the Dutch governor and his garrison were not in Kupang, the colonial capital was even occupied by the rebels. The Dutch then gave up their policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of the rulers they controlled. The governor general sent troops and placed the interior of the island under military administration. The rulers were forced to sign another treaty (Korte Verklaring) , in which they recognized the sovereignty of the Netherlands and were forbidden from contact with foreign powers.

Only after three further negotiations (1893, 1904 and 1913) between the two colonial powers could the problem of the final borders be resolved. On August 17, 1916, the contract was signed in The Hague , which established the border between East and West Timor that still exists today.

The scramble over this border between Portugal and the Netherlands and the views of the local population as belonging to the west or east have had far-reaching consequences up to the present day. Different ethnic groups that were part of the Wehale Kingdom or its close allies were divided by the border. Today Tetum, Bunak and Kemak live in both the Indonesian West Timor and the independent East Timor. Traditionally, these peoples still think about a united Timor.

There were conflicts between the various Timorese empires that had their roots in the pre-colonial period. Various reasons could then lead to the outbreak of armed conflict between the Timorese. The Mold and the Miomafo fought over gold mines in the southern center of West Timor between 1760 and 1782. From 1864 to 1870 Sonba'i and the Sorbians of Amfo'an fought for the rights of use of some betel palms in the kingdom of Kupang .

The Dutch, like the Portuguese in the eastern part of the island, had problems with financing their colony. The captain of the Portuguese corvette Sa de Bandeira reported from his visit in 1869 that the Dutch could not return his 21-round salute because they lacked guns and soldiers. The Portuguese captain saw this as an example of the Dutch way of "economic management". In 1875 the German expedition ship SMS Gazelle visited Kupang on its circumnavigation. Extensive studies of the area were carried out.

The 20th century

The ruler of Amarasi and his entourage, before 1910

The lack of power of the Dutch in West Timor can be seen in the fact that in 1904 they could only use military force to obtain an official audience with the ruler of Wehale in his capital, Laran . It was the first direct encounter between Dutch representatives and the "Kaiser" (Keizer) at all.

In 1905 the Dutch wanted to finally bring the Timorese rulers of their colony under their control. The Liurai (or Raja ) were asked to swear an oath on the Netherlands and transfer their authority to the Dutch administrator. In return they wanted to be granted a certain autonomy in their realms. The Liurai were supposed to collect taxes for the Dutch. The consequence was the outbreak of rebellions in all of West Timor from 1906 onwards. The reaction from the Dutch came quickly. In Niki-Niki, the local Liurai and his family were surrounded by Dutch troops, causing them to commit suicide. The rebellions lasted until 1916, when the rulers of West Timor had to accept the Dutch as new masters.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the first political organizations of the local population emerged, such as the Timorsch Verbond in 1922 , the Timor Evolutie in 1924 and the Pesekutan Timor in 1926 . 1,933 Timorese students formed in Bandung to Timor's Jongeren . This development ran contrary to that in the Portuguese East Timor, where the dictatorship suppressed political work. The Perserikatan Nasional Indonesia (PNI) began to gain influence in West Timor and the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) opened in 1925 a branch in Kupang. There she demanded the lowering of taxes and the end of forced labor, which led to the imprisonment and banishment of her leader Christian Pandie .

Japanese invasion of Kupang in 1942

During World War II, Timor was occupied by the Japanese army . On the night of February 19-20, Japanese units landed at Kupang and by the end of the month had taken control of almost all of West Timor. The Japanese only officially surrendered in West Timor on September 11, 1945 at a ceremony on the Australian HMAS Moresby . In 1949 West Timor became independent from the Netherlands as part of Indonesia.

The Sulawesi- based Permesta movement had control of the Indonesian West Timor for almost a year . The movement, supposedly backed by the CIA , fought against the central government in Jakarta until it was defeated by Indonesian troops in March 1958. 14 members of Permesta managed to escape to the Portuguese enclave Oe-Cusse Ambeno. You are said to have been responsible for the 1959 Viqueque Rebellion in Portuguese Timor .

The local administration remained in the hands of the Liurai until 1958. Despite their later disempowerment, their families still have a great influence in West Timorese society. Since 1988 more efforts have been made to develop the region.

Economic basics

Rice fields in South Central Timor

West Timor is no exception to the general climate of the Indonesian archipelago: the western part of the island of Timor has the characteristic monsoon climate . Timor also shows the familiar image of Indonesia: the western monsoon in one half of the year, the eastern monsoon in the other. The western monsoon is a time of heavy, torrential precipitation in the months of October to May (see figure above), the eastern monsoon a period of extreme drought in the rest of the year (see figure above). Both phases shape the agricultural rhythm and social life of the widely dispersed rural communities of the populations of West Timor.

An essential factor for the agriculture of these crops is the relationship between the duration and the amount of precipitation, that is: the duration of the drought is decisive for the cultivation of food crops; this can last up to nine months per year, depending on the region. For this reason, the most important risk factor in agriculture is a lack of continuity in rainfall: Agriculture competes with the behavior of the monsoons.

See also


  • Herbert W. Jardner , Heidrun Jardner: Captured threads. Textile decorating techniques in West Timor, Indonesia . 2nd revised and expanded edition. Abera-Verlag Meyer, Hamburg 1995, ISBN 3-931567-00-1 , ( Austronesia  1).

Web links

Commons : West Timor  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

supporting documents

About history:

Individual evidence

  1. Indicator Strategis Nusa Tenggara Timur ( en ) In: BPS .
  2. [1]
  3. ntt.bps.go.id/ ( Memento from July 21, 2011 in the Internet Archive )
  4. Direcção-Geral de Estatística : Results of the 2015 census , accessed on November 23, 2016.
  5. ^ Government of Timor-Leste: History ( Memento from July 25, 2008 in the Internet Archive )
  6. ^ Royal Timor: Helong ( Memento of February 19, 2011 in the Internet Archive )
  7. a b Jane’s oceania - Timor (English)
  8. ^ History of Timor, confirmed by Meyer's Konversationslexikon
  9. a b c James J. Fox: The Paradox of Powerlessness: Timor in Historical Perspective. December 9, 1996, Department of Anthropology, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University ( Memento of July 6, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 70 kB)
  10. Hans Hägerdal: Rebellions or factionalism? Timorese forms of resistance in an early colonial context, 1650–1769 ( Memento of the original from December 8, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.kitlv-journals.nl
  11. ^ Royal Timor: Sonbai ( Memento from July 15, 2011 in the Internet Archive )
  12. a b c d History of Timor ( Memento of the original from March 24, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (PDF; 824 kB) - Technical University of Lisbon @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / pascal.iseg.utl.pt
  13. Monika Schlicher: Portugal in East Timor. A critical examination of the Portuguese colonial history in East Timor from 1850 to 1912 . Abera, Hamburg 1996, ISBN 3-931567-08-7 , ( Abera Network Asia-Pacific  4), (also: Heidelberg, Univ., Diss., 1994).
  14. ^ The research trip SMS Gazelle in the years 1874 to 1876 under the command of the Captain of the Sea Baron von Schleinitz - original report
  15. ^ Ernest Chamberlain: The 1959 Rebellion in East Timor: Unresolved Tensions and an Unwritten History , accessed September 7, 2013