The social, economic and political history of the Timor region (Timorand surrounding islands) in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is still insufficiently studied. The Dutch were steadily established there since the mid-seventeenth century, but what were the new challenges meeting the early-colonial network in the nineteenth century, after the end of the VOC? How did interaction between colonial authorities take place on a day-to-day basis, and how were Western values imposed on local society? How did new economic structures in the colonial state affect local groups over time? These types of questions have been addressed on an Indonesia-wide level by some recent scholars. Such studies open up new questions relevant for the functioning of colonial societies. That colonialism as a global phenomenon has been a highly shifting complex that entailed more than a one-sided governance of force has been realized for quite some time. The limited number of Europeans in most colonial strongholds made for a degree of interdependence between external and local groups, and inevitably a hybrid culture. With the onset of faster and more regular lines of communication – shipping lines, trains, roads, telegraphs etc. – this interdependence was increasingly changed to a position where the external group acquired more effective means of enforcement. This, of course, went hand in hand with technological change and new means of bureaucratic governance.
Capturing this process in a Timorese context is interesting for several reasons. The geographically inaccessible position of Timor largely forced the Dutch and Portuguese “colonial” strongholds to fend for themselves with minute resources at disposal. This led to a reliance on alliances and bonds of trust with Timorese princes and domains. As late as in the 1870s the local allied princes appear to have been very confident vis-à-vis the tiny Dutch establishment. Still, the opening of new shipping lines, fresh economic challenges and the onset of a more active, “ethical”, colonial policy, transformedTimorat the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. After a few military clashes in 1905-10,West Timorwas “pacified” by colonial detachments. A similar but much bloodier process meanwhile took place inEast Timor, where the last major rebellion against Portuguese policy was suppressed in 1912. During the following decades, up to the early 1940s, many structures of settlement, internal local organization and rural economy were changed. Still, at the onset of Japanese rule in 1942, memories of pre-colonial (or pre-implementation) times were still alive.
The case of Timor therefore nicely illustrates the social and political processes that reduced allies to subjects of an implemented colonial policy. Still, this process remains to be chronicled as far asWest Timorgoes. Part of the problem is the relative dearth of archival materials for much of the nineteenth century. A survey of the collections held at the Arsip Nasional inJakartaby the applicant has uncovered a substantial number of useful sources for the period from the 1840s onwards, which have so far been very little used by scholars. Nevertheless, this survey has indicated that the potential material is relatively thin for the first half of the nineteenth century. A number of valuable manuscripts are held in the collections of KITLV and Nationaal Archief, but continual reports (Mailrapporten, Memories van Overgave) have only been found from c. 1870 onwards. The twentieth century up to c. 1940 is better served through a large number of Memories van Overgave and similar reports; these have been identified in the collections of the Nationaal Archief.
However, apart from this there is a hitherto untapped material with a good potential. This is the recently catalogued missionary documents of the Raad voor de Zending, previously stocked in Oegstgeest. The documents are now held at the Utrecht Archive. The dynamics of Christianization are worth studying here, as are the forces working against it. In that way, the material will enrich our knowledge of the hitherto rather elusive historical processes of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the Timor region, in the borderland between local and Western(-ized) society. This, in turn, can be compared with oral tradition and modern anthropological results. It will also be used in conjunction with the reports of the second half of the nineteenth century and the first four decades of the twentieth century, that have been identified in the KITLV and National Archief. The latter material tends to give developments in Timor from the official, bureaucratic, point of view, and it is therefore interesting to compare the style of writing with that of the missionaries and the traditional sources. Using a postcolonial inspiration, one may discern how conflicting and simultaneous voices of the past resonate against each other, thereby deepening knowledge of how colonialism was perceived and experienced. The focus of the research will necessarily be West Timor and adjacent islands, but comparisons will be made with the situation in Portuguese East Timor - something that has mostly been avoided in the existing historical literature on the island, probably for language reasons.