Portuguese Timor

Portuguese Timor (Portuguese: Timor Português) was a colonial possession of Portugal that existed between 1702 and 1975. During most of this period, Portugal shared the island of Timor with the Dutch East Indies.

Portuguese Timor
Timor Português
Anthem: "Hymno Patriótico" (1808–26)
Patriotic Anthem

"Hino da Carta" (1826–1911)
Hymn of the Charter

"A Portuguesa" (1911–75)
The Portuguese
Portuguese Timor with 1869-established boundaries.
Portuguese Timor with 1869-established boundaries.
StatusColony of the Portuguese Empire
Occupied by the Japanese Empire
CapitalLifau (1702–69)
Dili (1769–1975)
Common languagesTetum, Portuguese, Malay
Head of state 
• Monarch

Manuel I (first)
• 1908–10
Manuel II (last)
• President

Teófilo Braga (first)
• 1974–75
Francisco da Costa Gomes (last)
• 1702–05
António Coelho Guerreiro (first)
• 1974–75
Mário Lemos Pires (last)
• Colonisation
• Japanese occupation of Portuguese Timor
28 November 1975
7 December 1975
• Independence achieved
20 May 2002
CurrencyTimorese pataca (PTP)
Timorese escudo (PTE)
ISO 3166 codeTL
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Pre-colonial Timor
East Timor (1975–1976)
Indonesian occupied East Timor
Today part ofEast Timor

The first Europeans to arrive in the region were the Portuguese in 1515.[1] Dominican friars established a presence on the island in 1556, and the territory was declared a Portuguese colony in 1702. Following the beginning of the Carnation Revolution (a Lisbon-instigated decolonisation process) in 1975, East Timor was invaded by Indonesia. However, the invasion was not recognized as legal by the United Nations (UN), which continued to regard Portugal as the legal Administering Power of East Timor. The independence of East Timor was finally achieved in 2002 following a UN-administered transition period.[2]


Early colonialistsEdit

Prior to the arrival of European colonial powers, the island of Timor was part of the trading networks that stretched between India and China and incorporating Maritime Southeast Asia. The island's large stands of fragrant sandalwood were its main commodity.[3] The first European powers to arrive in the area were the Portuguese in the early sixteenth century followed by the Dutch in the late sixteenth century. Both came in search of the fabled Spice Islands of Maluku. In 1515, the Portuguese first landed near modern Pante Macassar.[citation needed] Portuguese merchants exported sandalwood from the island until the tree nearly became extinct.[1][better source needed] In 1556 a group of Dominican friars established the village of Lifau.

In 1613, the Dutch took control of the western part of the island.[1] Over the following three centuries, the Dutch would come to dominate the Indonesian archipelago with the exception of the eastern half of Timor, which would become Portuguese Timor.[3] The Portuguese introduced maize as a food crop and coffee as an export crop. Timorese systems of tax and labour control were preserved, through which taxes were paid through their labour and a portion of the coffee and sandalwood crop. The Portuguese introduced mercenaries into Timor communities and Timor chiefs hired Portuguese soldiers for wars against neighbouring tribes. With the use of the Portuguese musket, Timorese men became deer hunters and suppliers of deer horn and hide for export.[4]

The Portuguese introduced Catholicism to Portuguese Timor, as well as the Latin writing system, the printing press, and formal schooling.[4] Two groups of people were introduced to East Timor: Portuguese men, and Topasses. The Portuguese language was introduced into church and state business, and Portuguese Asians used Malay in addition to Portuguese.[4] Under colonial policy, Portuguese citizenship was available to men who assimilated the Portuguese language, literacy, and religion; by 1970, 1,200 East Timorese, largely drawn from the aristocracy, Dili residents, or larger towns, had obtained Portuguese citizenship. By the end of the colonial administration in 1974, 30 percent of Timorese were practising Catholics while the majority continued to worship spirits of the land and sky.[4]

Establishment of the colonial stateEdit

Portuguese commander with local troops in Balibo (1930s)

In 1702, Lisbon sent its first governor, António Coelho Guerreiro,[5] to Lifau, which became the capital of all Portuguese dependencies in the Lesser Sunda Islands. Former capitals were Solor and Larantuka. Portuguese control over the territory was tenuous, particularly in the mountainous interior. Dominican friars, the occasional Dutch raid, and the Timorese themselves, competed with Portuguese merchants. The control of colonial administrators was largely restricted to the Dili area, and they had to rely on traditional tribal chieftains for control and influence.[3]

The capital was moved to Dili in 1769, due to attacks from the Topasses, who became rulers of several local kingdoms (Liurai). At the same time, the Dutch were colonising the west of the island and the surrounding archipelago that is now Indonesia. The border between Portuguese Timor and the Dutch East Indies was formally decided in 1859 with the Treaty of Lisbon. In 1913, the Portuguese and Dutch formally agreed to split the island between them.[6] The definitive border was drawn by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 1916, and it remains the international boundary between East Timor and Indonesia.[7]

For the Portuguese, their colony of Portuguese Timor remained little more than a neglected trading post until the late nineteenth century. Investment in infrastructure, health, and education was minimal. Sandalwood remained the main export crop with coffee exports becoming significant in the mid-nineteenth century. In places where Portuguese rule was asserted, it tended to be brutal and exploitative.[3]

Twentieth centuryEdit

Portuguese Timor Arms (1935–1975)[8]
Stamp of Portuguese Timor

At the beginning of the twentieth century, a faltering home economy prompted the Portuguese to extract greater wealth from its colonies, resulting in increased resistance to Portuguese rule in Portuguese Timor. In 1911–12, a Timorese rebellion was quashed after Portugal brought in troops from the Portuguese colonies of Mozambique and Macau, resulting in the deaths of 3,000 Portuguese Timorese.[6]

In the 1930s, the Japanese semi-governmental Nan'yō Kōhatsu development company, with the secret sponsorship of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), invested heavily in a joint-venture with the primary plantation company of Portuguese Timor, SAPT. The joint-venture effectively controlled imports and exports into the island by the mid-1930s and the extension of Japanese interests greatly concerned the British, Dutch and Australian authorities.[9]

Although Portugal was neutral during World War II, in December 1941, Portuguese Timor was occupied by a small British, Australian and Dutch force, to preempt a Japanese invasion. However, the Japanese did invade in the Battle of Timor in February 1942. Under Japanese occupation, the borders of the Dutch and Portuguese were overlooked with Timor island being made a single Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) administration zone.[4] 400 Australian and Dutch commandos trapped on the island by the Japanese invasion waged a guerrilla campaign, which tied up Japanese troops and inflicted over 1,000 casualties.[6] Timorese and the Portuguese helped the guerillas but following the Allies' eventual evacuation, Japanese retribution from their soldiers and Timorese militia raised in Dutch Timor was severe.[4] By the end of the War, an estimated 40–60,000 Timorese had died, the economy was in ruins, and famine widespread.[6][10]

Following World War II, the Portuguese promptly returned to reclaim their colony, while Dutch Timor became part of Indonesia as Indonesian Timor, when it secured its independence in 1949.

To rebuild the economy, colonial administrators forced local chiefs to supply labourers which further damaged the agricultural sector.[6] The role of the Catholic Church in Portuguese Timor grew following the Portuguese government handing over the education of the Timorese to the Church in 1941. In post-war Portuguese Timor, primary and secondary school education levels significantly increased, albeit on a very low base.

Although illiteracy in 1973 was estimated at 93 percent of the population, the small educated elite of Portuguese Timorese produced by the Church in the 1960s and 1970s became the independence leaders during the Indonesian occupation.[6]

End of Portuguese ruleEdit

Portuguese ceremony in Atabae (1970)
Proposed flag for Portuguese Timor.

Following a 1974 coup (the "Carnation Revolution"), the new Government of Portugal favoured a gradual decolonisation process for Portuguese territories in Asia and Africa. When Portuguese Timorese political parties were first legalised in April 1974, three major players emerged. The Timorese Democratic Union (UDT) was dedicated to preserving Portuguese Timor as a protectorate of Portugal, and in September announced its support for independence.[11] Fretilin endorsed "the universal doctrines of socialism", as well as "the right to independence",[12] and later declared itself "the only legitimate representative of the people".[13] A third party, APODETI, emerged advocating Portuguese Timor's integration with Indonesia[14] expressing concerns that an independent East Timor would be economically weak and vulnerable.[15]

On 14 November 1974, Mário Lemos Pires - an Army officer - was appointed by the new Portuguese Government as Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Portuguese Timor.

Meanwhile, the political dispute between the Portuguese Timorese parties soon gave rise to an armed conflict, that included the participation of members of the Colonial Police and Timorese soldiers of the Portuguese Army. Unable to control the conflict with the few Portuguese troops that he had at his disposal, Lemos Pires decided to leave Dili with his staff and transfer the seat of the administration to Atauro Island (located 25 km off Dili) in late August 1975. At the same time, he requested Lisbon to send military reinforcements, the request being responded with the sending of a warship, the NRP Afonso Cerqueira, which arrived in Portuguese Timorese waters in early October.

On 28 November 1975, Fretilin unilaterally declared the colony's independence, as the Democratic Republic of East Timor (República Democrática de Timor-Leste).

On 7 December 1975, the Indonesian Armed Forces launched an invasion of East Timor. At 3:00 a.m., the two Portuguese corvettes, the NRP João Roby and NRP Afonso Cerqueira, anchored near Atauro, detected on the radar a high number of unidentified air and naval targets approaching. They soon identified the targets as Indonesian military aircraft and warships, which initiated an assault against Dili. Lemos Pires and his staff then left Atauro, embarked on the Portuguese warships, and headed to Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia.

The João Roby and Afonso Cerqueira were ordered to continue patrolling the waters around the former Portuguese Timor, in preparation of possible military action to respond to the Indonesian invasion, constituting the naval task force UO 20.1.2 (latter renamed FORNAVTIMOR). Portugal sent a third warship to the region, the NRP Oliveira e Carmo, which arrived on 31 January 1976 and replaced the NRP Afonso Cerqueira. The Portuguese warships would continue in the region until May 1976, when the remaining NRP Oliveira e Carmo left, going back to Lisbon, at a time when a military action to expel the Indonesian forces was clearly seen as unviable.

On 17 July 1976, Indonesia formally annexed East Timor, declaring it as its 27th province and renaming it Timor Timur. The United Nations, however, did not recognise the annexation, continuing to consider Portugal as the legal Administering Power of what under international law was still Portuguese Timor.

Following the end of Indonesian occupation in 1999, and a United Nations administered transition period, East Timor became formally independent 20 May 2002.


Portuguese Timor 20 Escudos 1967

The first Timorese currency was the Portuguese Timorese pataca, introduced in 1894.

From 1959, the Portuguese Timorese escudo - linked to the Portuguese escudo - was used.

In 1975, the currency ceased to exist as East Timor was annexed by Indonesia and began using the Indonesian rupiah.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c West, p. 198.
  2. ^ C. R. Boxer, "Portuguese Timor: A Rough Island Story, 1515-1960." History Today (May 1960) 19#5) pp 349-355.
  3. ^ a b c d Schwartz (1994), p. 198
  4. ^ a b c d e f Taylor (2003), p. 379.
  5. ^ "Gunn (1999), Timor Lorosae: 500 years (Macau: Livros do Oriente), p.80. " (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 March 2009. Retrieved 25 April 2009.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Schwartz (1994), p. 199.
  7. ^ Verzijl, J.H.W. (1973). International Law in Historical Perspective. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. p. 488.
  8. ^ "Flags of the World".
  9. ^ Post, The Encyclopedia of Indonesia in the Pacific War , pages 560-561;
  10. ^ Goto.
  11. ^ Dunn (1996), p. 53–54.
  12. ^ Quoted in Dunn, p. 56.
  13. ^ Quoted in Dunn, p. 60.
  14. ^ Dunn, p. 62; Indonesia (1977), p. 19.
  15. ^ Dunn, p. 62.

References and further readingEdit

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 8°33′00″S 125°35′00″E / 8.5500°S 125.5833°E / -8.5500; 125.5833