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Timor Lorosa’e. Pays au carrefour de l’Asie et du Pacifique. Un atlas géo-historique, Frédéric Durand

Marne-la-Vallée: Presses Universitaires & Bangkok: IRASEC, 2002, 206 p., 136 fig., 106 photogr., 5 tabl., bibl., gloss.
Antonio Guerreiro
p. 156-159
Référence(s) :

Frédéric Durand, Timor Lorosa’e. Pays au carrefour de l’Asie et du Pacifique. Un atlas géo-historique, Marne-la-Vallée: Presses Universitaires & Bangkok: IRASEC, 2002, 206 p., 136 fig., 106 photogr., 5 tabl., bibl., gloss.

Texte intégral

  • 1 Cf. Les forêts en Asie du Sud-Est: recul et exploitation, le cas de l’Indonésie, L’Harmattan: Pari (...)

1This atlas of Timor Loro Sa’e was released in May 2002, coinciding with the new East Timorese nation’s proclamation of independence (20 May). The author, Frédéric Durand, a lecturer in Geography at Toulouse-Le Mirail II University and a specialist of forestry issues in Southeast Asia,1 has been able to enlist the collaboration of many scholars, NGO staff, and the people of Timor Loro Sa’e in order to produce this reference work, at the same time a useful tool for the new nation’s development. The book was jointly published by two French institutions, in Paris and Bangkok, and supported by the research team LASEMA of CNRS.

  • 2 Until the early twentieth century, even the Tanimbar archipelago was known to Malay seafarers from (...)

2The book presents the island’s geography and colonial history, notions about its ethnolinguistic groups, general sociological data, and field photographs, in an approach well suited to grasp the complex issues that have developed in Timor, especially over the last sixty years, following the trauma of the Japanese occupation in the Second World War (1942-1945) and Indonesian annexation of East Timor (1975-1999). Timor, the largest island of the Lesser Sunda island arc, is also important for its population of over two million people.2 The choice by the author of the ethnic name of the land in the Tetum language—Timor Loro Sa’e or Lorosa’e, “Timor Sun Rising”—is commendable, as it stresses the transition from the Portuguese colonial era (Timor) and Indonesia’s forced integration (Timor Timur) to the new state of East Timor. However, the Portuguese rendering of its name, Timor Leste, linked to the people’s struggle for independence during the last twenty-five years, is still in use and quoted in the Indonesian press.

3Since the publication of Robert Cribb’s Historical Atlas of Indonesia (2000), this is the most comprehensive cartographic treatment available about the island of Timor, in no way redundant since its contents and major themes are different. Its subtitle, “A country at the Crossroads of Asia and the Pacific,” indicates the author’s interests, relating to his earlier research on the Indonesian archipelago. The preface by José Ramos Horta—current minister of Foreign Affairs of East Timor and 1996 Nobel prizewinner (together with Bishop Belo)—reminds us of the painful process by which this small nation came into existence. It also stresses the atlas’ methodologically innovative approach combining local data (at district and sub-district levels in East Timor), especially on demography, with remarks on the geopolitical history of the island of Timor since the seventeenth century—maps of the island dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are included. The administrative divisions and road network of the Indonesian province of Timor (Timor Barat) are also shown. Generally, the wealth of cartographic information and other sources compiled and analyzed by the author is impressive. The various ethnohistorical elements presented in the maps showing chiefdoms (reinos) and trade on the island illuminate the East Timorese peoples’ resistance to Portuguese colonization from the mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth century. Durand’s comments on the cultural status of ritual war (funu) and headhunting in Timor place the people’s struggle in its historical context, from the Colonial period to the most recent events (pp. 48-58).

4The book’s outline, despite its rather complex sequence of eight chapters (parties) and many iconographic and textual documents in different languages, broadly comprises three parts: Chapters I-III concern the island’s environmental, cultural, and historical background, with focus on the Eastern part; chapters IV-VII chronicle the decolonization process and the Indonesian invasion and administration of East Timor since 1974; and the last chapter analyzes the prospects and challenges laying ahead for this small “underdeveloped nation.” The references listed in the bibliography are intelligently used, especially the Indonesian sources pertaining to the administration of the province of Timor Timur from 1976 to 1999 (pp. 98-115), while Portuguese or Dutch archival materials seem less relevant. The excellent quality and color printing of the maps should be noted, which make use of the full possibilities of mapping at different scales, so as to convey not only topographical, land-use, or demographic data, but also various statistical data that would otherwise be difficult to grasp —e.g., the near absence of destruction of houses and buildings in Baucau (fig. 104), in contrast to all other areas of the island, or the distribution of refugee camps in West Timor (fig. 108). Quite a few regional maps, showing the island of Timor in its insular Southeast Asia and West Pacific maritime context, are beautifully done (figs. 3-6, 13-21).

5The island’s physical features (topography, hydrography, soils, climate, and botanic formations) are detailed. A special section focuses on the urban areas of East Timor and its capital, Dili, since the 1960s (pp. 144-145). The most recent develop-ments in Loro Sa’e, the province, district, and subdistrict reorganization of 2002, are included as well (figs. 7, 127). The Pacific War campaigns in central Timor (1942-43) are wrapped up in one map (fig. 44).

6Attempting a cartographic representation of the armed struggle that has been going on for twenty-four years in East Timor was certainly more challenging. The maps show, for each area, the fighting that took place between Indonesian forces and the East Timorese organizations (Falintil and other guerilla groups) since the invasion of December 7th, 1975, stressing the difficulties that the Indonesian army, a stronger military force, experienced in controlling the mountainous interior and the extensive coastline. The strategic choices made by the East Timor ABRI (Indonesian Army) commanders, resulting in the creation of “regrouping camps” for civilian population (pp. 71-85), was reflected in the huge demographic losses, estimated at over 200,000 people (pp. 88-89).Then Indonesian transmigrasi sites, as found in the middle 1990s, are also located (p. 103). Then, maps showing the results of the United Nations referendum and its violent aftermath of destruction and murders by militias, followed by the UNTAET administration, close the chronicle of these tragic events (pp. 116-129).

  • 3 Compare Robert Cribb’s Historical Atlas of Indonesia, Singapore: Curzon New Asian Library, 2000, pp (...)
  • 4 Compare Cribb 2000: 22, map 1.24; see J. Allen, J. Golson, & R. Jones (eds.) Sunda and Sahul, Londo (...)

7Anthropological information is mostly provided in a comprehensive chronological sequence from 35,000 BC up to the year of publication (pp. 174-191). The ethnolinguistic divisions of the island of Timor, including Papuan and Austronesian languages, are summarized in a map and the text (pp. 47-48)—on this topic, a general map of Eastern Indonesia, including Solor and Alor islands, would have been useful, as with geomorphology3. Regarding population distribution, a map dated 1868 (fig. 13, p. 30) shows, to the East of the Wallace Line, another line reading “Limite orientale des populations malaysiennes.” This is misleading because, while the natural history of this region is briefly discussed, no reference to recent sources and modern knowledge about the anthropology of Eastern Indonesia is made in the text (p. 30). In this transition area, the various populations, speaking either Austronesian or Papuan languages, show a gradation of physical types and cultural affiliations, and this is elaborated on later in the text (pp. 46-48). A clear statement on this point should be provided in a later edition.4

8The origin myth of the Crocodile “ancestor” becoming the island of Timor introduces ideas about the ethnolinguistic background of Timor Loro Sa’e’s population, comprising about twenty different groups. On the other hand, the local cultural variations are represented by the main types of house shapes, after Ruy Cinatti’s Arquitectura Timorense (p. 46). However, Durand globally addresses the question of cultural diversity in the last chapter (pp. 140-142), in the light of recent events and with reference to the current linguistic policy, namely the choice of Portuguese as second national language, after (Austronesian) Tetum, and over Malay or English (fig. 67 gives Indonesian-language fluency per area in 1995). This shows that the cultural specificity and shared history of the people of East Timor during the last three centuries have proven a stronger, more lasting bond than the political and economic integration into the regional networks of Nusantara.

9As Durand notes, in contrast to West Timor where the impact of Dutch colonization had been stronger, the territorial and cultural integrity of many ethnic groups in East Timor’s interior was maintained up to the early 1970s. Then the stress that the people of Loro Sa’e—belonging to several ideological families and parties within the CNRM, then the CNRT after 1998—have placed on cultural autonomy during their fight for independence has, in turn, produced a strong national identity. At the local level, this is based on the socio-political structure of the suco (village), the backbone of society—498 of these are registered in the new territorial organization—despite the impact of Portuguese colonization and the Indonesian administrative grid. The identity of East Timorese, thus enhanced, stresses their common history and the necessary unity of all ethnolinguistic groups in contrast to “foreigners” (malai), people “who have come from afar.” It also points to the role of the educated elite in Loro Sa’e and abroad, which has been crucial in organizing the resistance. In this respect, it is only fair that the atlas closes on three statements by the East Timorese leadership, Mgr. Carlos X.F. Belo (the Catholic church being the moral force behind the people’s struggle), José Ramos Horta, and the current President, Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão.

10The superb photographic documentation, by Durand himself, is recent (2000-2001) and is complemented by a few archive photographs of the Falintil guerillas troops. These color photographs nicely introduce the landscapes and peoples of Timor Loro Sa’e and support the chronicle of the recent dramatic events, which otherwise could have been less informative. Part of this large visual documentation, of an illustrative character, occurs in the text, and the second part forms a photo album (pp. 151-160), with six photographs on each page. An essential bibliography, plus a comprehensive glossary and list of acronyms, supplemented by footnotes, complete the book, although it lacks an index, that would have been most useful. The atlas also includes three tables of contents, in French, English, and Portuguese; a table of geographical terms (p. 14) including a few words in Indonesian (alternatively, the table could have been prepared in Indonesian); a list of photographs, figures, and tables in these same languages, which should help the diffusion of the book, especially in Timor Loro Sa’e, although an English translation is expected to make it available to a wider audience.

  • 5 Another cartographic approach is illustrated in the recently published and nicely designed Atlas de (...)

11In short, this atlas is the most comprehensive and detailed work published to date on East Timor.5 Its special focus on the last twenty-seven years, the period from the end of Portuguese rule (1974-1975) to the independence (2002), makes it particularly relevant. It positions the newborn nation of Timor Loro Sa’e in the geostrategic context of Southeast Asia (ASEAN) and the Western Pacific (Australia, PNG, Palau), and analyzes its natural and human resources. In the wake of the recent events, it visually documents its tiny population’s struggle against all forms of oppression. Furthermore, it explains the intricacies of and shifts in the internal politics of the former Portuguese colony and Indonesian province, relating each area’s local features to the island’s general situation. It will be useful not only to geographers, but also to historians, sociologists, and economists, all those who teach about or have an interest in the socio-economic problems of small developing countries.

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1 Cf. Les forêts en Asie du Sud-Est: recul et exploitation, le cas de l’Indonésie, L’Harmattan: Paris, 1994, 411 p.

2 Until the early twentieth century, even the Tanimbar archipelago was known to Malay seafarers from the archipelago by the name of Timor Laut (Timur Laut in Bahasa Indonesia), literally, “the Northeast,” considered from the location of the Island of Timor, or the “East.”

3 Compare Robert Cribb’s Historical Atlas of Indonesia, Singapore: Curzon New Asian Library, 2000, pp. 34-36; the situation of East Timor in the 1990s is given on pp. 185-187.

4 Compare Cribb 2000: 22, map 1.24; see J. Allen, J. Golson, & R. Jones (eds.) Sunda and Sahul, London: Academic Press, 1977; P. Bellwood, Man’s conquest of the Pacific, Auckland: William Collins, 1978, and Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1997; P. Bellwood, J.J. Fox, & D. Tryon (eds.), The Austronesians. Historical and Comparative Perspectives, Canberra: Australian National University, 1994; Peter van de Velde (ed.), Prehistoric Indonesia. A Reader, Dordrecht: Foris, 1984. Although the volume by R.B. Smith & W. Watson (eds.), Early Southeast Asia. Essays in Archaelogy, History and Historical Geography (New York & Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1979), is referred to in the notes, the Sunda and Sahul settlement patterns are not explained. The distribution of Southern Mongoloids with a so-called “Malay” phenotype and the Papuan, showing Melanesian features, is not regular in the region, even within the same ethnic group, especially in the coastal and lowland areas, where much contact took place during the last four millennia. By and large, the same can be said of linguistic differentiation, which does not coincide with the distribution of specific “Asiatic Malay” and/or “Melanesian Papuan” populations, as ethnicity, phenotype, and language evolve in time. If the pre-Austronesian and Austronesian prehistory of Eastern Timor is summarized on pp. 46-48, the text on p. 30 also mentions Wallace’s outdated division of “populations malaysiennes” (in western Indonesia) and “populations polynésiennes” (in eastern Indonesia and the Pacific) without giving the current views on Austronesian settlement history in Insular and Mainland Southeast Asia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. Before Wallace, Domenic de Reinzi had put forth a similar division in his general description (L’Océanie, Paris: Didot Frères, 1836), and so had Dumont d’Urville in the 1840s. Besides, the term “malaysien” has taken yet another meaning since the 1960s: the citizens of Malaysia. Oddly, Wallace’s The Malay archipelago. The Land of the Orang Utan and the Bird of Paradise (London: Macmillan, 1869, 2 vol. , first ed.) is not quoted in the bibliography. Wallace’s original map, entitled “Physical map of the Malay Archipelago 1868” shows a line marking a “Division between Malayan & Polynesian Races.”

5 Another cartographic approach is illustrated in the recently published and nicely designed Atlas de Timor Leste (Lisbon: ICIST-Lidel & Facultade de Architectura, Universidade Técnica de Lisboa, Groupo de Estudos de Reconstrução de Timor Leste [Gertil], 2002, VII+169 p.), which is meant, in the new state, for a more practical use, for instance, in urban planning.

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Référence papier

Antonio Guerreiro, « Timor Lorosa’e. Pays au carrefour de l’Asie et du Pacifique. Un atlas géo-historique, Frédéric Durand », Moussons, 7 | 2004, 156-159.

Référence électronique

Antonio Guerreiro, « Timor Lorosa’e. Pays au carrefour de l’Asie et du Pacifique. Un atlas géo-historique, Frédéric Durand », Moussons [En ligne], 7 | 2004, mis en ligne le 15 novembre 2013, consulté le 26 mars 2017. URL :

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Antonio Guerreiro

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