2. a. Pre-colonial history:

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. 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). Timor was linked in the trade network of China and India via Java and Sulawesi islands of Indonesia (http://www.uc.pt/timor/hist.timor.html). Aside from sandalwood, honey, wax and slaves were also exported. Sandalwood is an aromatic wood.[1] 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. 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.


[1] Soap, perfume, essential oils are made from this product. 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—(Latin: Santalum album L.)

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