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21 June 2009

Tracing the path, recounting the past: historical perspectives on Timor

From 'Tracing the path, recounting the past: historical perspectives on Timor' by James J. Fox - The island of Timor, in one of its mythic representations, is described as a half-submerged crocodile, wary and waiting. In another mythic representation, Timor is mother earth, accepting, long-suffering, supportive of all who rely upon her. Geologically, Timor has been described as a 'tectonic chaos'. Linguistically, the island is a babel of languages and dialects. Historically, for centuries, it has been a divided island and a source of continuing dispute. Its local populations have long resisted outside interference and have been fiercely defensive of their different local cultural traditions. From these perspectives, Timor is not one place, but many.

Because of the complexity of its traditions, there have been various attempts to simplify Timor's diversity. Dividing the island's population into East and West is one of the most potent of these simplifications. This division makes little sense in understanding the history of the island, the ethnic composition of its population or the interrelationship of its cultural traditions. Moreover, it leaves the enclave of Oecussi, the historical founding site of Timor's Portuguese traditions, on its own in the West - detached and with little relevance to the rest of East Timor.

To understand East Timor requires a perspective on Timor as a whole. It also requires that careful attention be given to Timor's distinctive cultural traditions. Thus Suai's traditions differ from those of Maliana, Maliana from those of Maubara, Maubara from Manatuto and Manatuto from Los Palos. These traditions form the basis of local resilience and are the source of multiple identities. http://epress.anu.edu.au/oota/ch1.htm

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