Portugal’s Tropical Research Institute (IICT – Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical) offers a surprising and welcome entry point into some records from East Timor’s long Portuguese colonial era.
The record begins in the 1838 (when Timor was managed from Macao) and ends on 5 July 1975 (a month before the civil war). The gazette reproduces relevant official statements from Lisbon, along with local colonial administrative directives, reports, statistics, civil servant appointments etc.
While items are largely brief and predictably bureaucratic in tone, the gazette as a whole offers a ready means to track the main political/administrative developments affecting Timor over that whole period.
1912 Revolt & 1974-75 decolonisation
During 1912, the final year of the great Manufahi/Boaventura uprising, the weekly publication contained many ‘military command’ reports from the regions, headed by notes on Politica Indigena. A report on a battle at Mt Cablac and a special brief statement on a major (perhaps final?) assault on a mountain stronghold at ‘Leolaco’ (10-11 August 1912) are rare examples of specific detail on the uprising.
For the years 1974-75, a random perusal of the gazette appears to show little of the drama and detail of what East Timorese were doing and thinking in Timor. The publication is, however, a very useful guide to Lisbon’s directives on Timor after the Carnation Revolution and, for example, includes the ground rules for the establishment of a formal decolonisation commission for Timor (April 1975).
Welcome as this resource is, there is room for improving its presentation. The search screen is limited to finding a particular issue (by date) and navigation within a given issue is limited to viewing page by page (which does become tedious). Some of the digitised pages are very difficult to read; many will be too faint for any future OCR process (Optical Character Recognition – which would allow text searching within the collection). For the future perhaps – create a rough index by rescanning the content-summary front pages of the gazettes and converting them to searchable text?
Films: 1950s Timorese culture
Also on the IICT website are short extracts of 23 films (16mm) taken in Timor during the 1953-54 anthropological mission headed by António de Almeida.
In addition to moving images of indigenous Timorese arts, crafts, building and cultural performance in various regions, the samples also include several (somewhat upbeat) sequences on Portuguese colonial reconstruction after World War II.
Links to this set of film samples can be found here.
Can you help?
I intend constructing a guide to other East Timor archival resources in Portugal – online or not. I would be grateful for any information on, or guides to, known public or private materials which I could include in the Collections section of this website.
Credits: Thanks to Susana Barnes (and her original informant) for drawing my attention to the 1950s film records and to Kevin Sherlock for background information on the Gazette.