East Timor: The World’s Newest Country

The Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Hawai‘i has made freely available online (in PDF format) a brief, 33-page high-school level workbook, East Timor: The World’s Newest Country, by Flo Lamoureux.

The purpose of this book is to provide students with an overview the world’s newest nation–East Timor. The narrative begins with a section on pre-colonial Timor and continues through the Portuguese era. It covers the 25-year period when Indonesia governed the entire island of Timor. After a varied and violent past, on September 27, 2002 this little known state became the United Nation’s 191st member. In addition to an accounting of important historical events, the book covers language, education, religion, women’s issues and government. The Center for Southeast Asian Studies wishes to acknowledge Dr. Douglas Kammen who carefully read and edited an early draft of the book. His experiences in East Timor significantly enriched its contents.

The workbook is loaded with provocative discussion questions. Here are the questions for the history section.

  • Sandalwood was the major source of income and bartered goods in Timor prior to 1500. How would sandalwood trade in the 16th and 17th centuries have differed if current international regulations related to conservation have been in effect? Compare the economic results of over-cutting sandalwood to the present day economic questions raised in the matter of drift net fishing. (For material on driftnet fishing, see http://www.nwr.noaa.gov/1salmon/salmesa/pubs/fsdrift.htm; and http://www.unescap.org/mced2000/pacific/background/drift.htm)
  • The explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, sailed under the Spanish flag. When his crewmembers landed on Timor they did not claim the island for Spain. They had previously landed in the Philippines and claimed those islands for Spain, why do you think they did not plant the Spanish flag on Timor? If Timor had been a Spanish colony and more closely connected to the Philippines how do you think that would have impacted on the island’s future?
  • The Portuguese were never able to maintain full control of Timor. The local Christianized Timorese resisted Portuguese rule and dealt with the Europeans only when required by commercial matters. Explain why the Topasses were more successful in their dealings with both the indigenous Timorese and the Portuguese.
  • It took well over a hundred years for the Dutch and Portuguese to sign a formal treaty that divided Timor between the two European nations. Since they essentially agreed to an informal division in 1777, why do you think they did not get around to a formal treaty until 1916?
  • In 1910 the Portuguese monarchy was overthrown. This was a cause for alarm among the elite class in East Timor who had developed a comfortable working relationship with the Portuguese government there. As a result of this change in the government in Portugal, a plantation economy emerged in East Timor. Compare the plantation economy with its salaried income and taxes to the economy that existed under the Portuguese monarchy where the East Timorese elite collected goods from the peasant farmers and turned them over to the Portuguese government representative.
  • Explain why the Japanese Army of occupation treated West Timor differently from East Timor. Compare this to the situation in Vietnam where the French government was an ally of Germany and hence not an enemy of Japan.
  • Give three reasons why post-World War II East Timor was such a poor region. Why do you think Portugal neglected it?
  • Explain why the Viqueque rebellion in 1959 led to Portugal exiling rebel leaders. What role did Communism play in the Portuguese government’s decision to do this?
  • In 1974 the conservative Portuguese government was overthrown and a new liberal government emerged. What policy did the new government implement that had a dramatic affect on East Timor?
  • Name the three major parties that vied for power in the newly independent East Timor? Compare their goals.
  • In August 1975 Fretilin controlled most of East Timor and the new nation’s independence seemed secure. Explain how the alliance of UTD, Apodeti and Indonesia reacted to this situation.
  • Once Indonesian troops forced Fretilin forces into the mountains, guerrilla warfare became the norm. One matter that encouraged East Timorese to join the guerrillas in the mountains was the Indonesian policy of encirclement. Explain how this policy worked.
  • Neither Australia, the United States nor Portugal supported East Timor’s struggle for democracy. Compare the reasons why the three countries did not support East Timorese independence.
  • If Indonesia built more hospitals and schools in ten years than Portugal did in 400 years, why were the East Timorese so adamant about being a separate nation?
  • Many brutal incidents took place in East Timor under Indonesian rule. What made the November 1991 incident outside a church a turning point in world opinion of East Timor’s quest for independence?
  • What role did the 1997 economic crisis in Asia play in East Timor’s independence?
  • How did the Indonesian military forces (the militia) react when Indonesia declared East Timor an independent nation? Why were the military in East Timor especially angry about it?
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