Portuguese Timor Archives Online

14 April 2010

Front Page 06 Jan 1900

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.

In the Historical Archive section of the IICT website is a link to an online version of the colonial government’s official gazette (Boletim Oficial) for Timor.

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.

Timor audiovisual archives in France

9 November 2009


France’s National Audiovisual Institute (INA) is now showing some Timor archival material on its website.

While the visible website documentation is not clear , some of this material probably comes from the Max Stahl Audiovisual Centre (CAMSTL) in Dili. CAMSTL recently concluded an arrangement with INA to house copies of historic Timor footage for long-term preservation and international access.

Click here for INA video listIn addition to several archived French television news bulletins about Timor, historic items include footage about the Santa Cruz and Suai Church massacres along with a less-widely known 1980 French documentary. A list of INA holdings, with links to the footage, can be accessed by clicking on the image at left.

Limits to access
Sadly, there appear to be limits to viewing this material online. All items of a few minutes duration can be seen in full. Longer items seem to be restricted to a few-minutes excerpt; you have to pay some Euros to see the whole item.

Audiovisual ‘professionals’ can apparently view (for possible purchase) all footage for free by registering with INA’s commercial arm Inamediapro. My attempt to register as a professional archivist with audiovisual interests was rejected by INA.

Access issues aside for the moment, it is a promising sign to see this material being preserved at such a prestigious institution.

International Timor Solidarity Exhibition in Dili

7 September 2009


A small but instructive and eye-catching selection of materials from the archives of Timor solidarity groups worldwide was recently exhibited in Dili.

Titled Solidarity through the years, 1974-1999, the exhibition was organised by Klibur Solidaridade, a collective of young Timorese groups and international activists. The exhibition, designed to strenghten existing ties and encourage new contacts between Timorese and internationals, coincided with a 3-day activists conference and other activities as part of a larger national celebration of the tenth anniversary of the 1999 independence ballot.

Australian materials
Materials came from all parts of the world with Australian materials featuring prominently – especially covering the first ten years of the occupation. Cecily Gilbert and I carried from Australia representative items from the collections of Friends of East Timor in Perth, Denis Freney’s Campaign for an Independent East Timor roneos of resistance radio messages and the East Timor News periodical, posters, publications and leaflets from Melbourne’s Timor Information Service, the Australia East Timor Association and the Australian Council for Overseas Aid Human Rights office run by Pat Walsh. It was a treat to experience young East Timorese seeing these materials for the first time and having the opportunity to explain the background to some of the items.

Memorial to martyrs of 1999

Memorial to martyrs of 1999

The exhibition was held at the Fundasaun Oriente, the former home of the recently deceased Manuel Carrascalao and site of a militia massacre in April 1999. A well on the site has been transformed into a poignant memorial to the victims of militia/TNI violence.

The Timorese Resistance Archive and Museum has reportedly expressed interest in some exhibition materials for future display. Australian items we carried to Timor will be held by the Reception, Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CAVR) archive.

Some background to the exhibition can be found here.

A random sample of our images from the exhibition launch can be found here.

Solidarity archives: Canada’s example

22 June 2009

The archives of Canada’s East Timor Alert Network (ETAN) have been deposited for public access at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario.

ETAN Canada campaigned from 1986 for a shift in Canadian foreign policy to support human rights and self-determination for East Timor. David Webster, now at the University of San Francisco, organised the papers and made the box list available here.

Perhaps ETAN Canada’s listing will encourage other similar organisations to get their papers into order as well.

Australian solidarity collections

Some surviving records of Australian solidarity group work are already available for study (with more to come!).

Friends of East Timor (FOET WA) members sorting files, Perth, 2005.

Friends of East Timor (FOET WA) members sorting files, Perth, 2005.

The papers of the legendary Denis Freney (National Library of Australia) contain records of the original Campaign for an Independent East Timor (CIET) in Sydney. Andrew McNaughtan’s papers at the Mitchell Library include material from Sydney’s newer Australia East Timor Association (AETA). Early fragments of (the original) AETA in Victoria can be found in the papers of Community Aid Abroad (at University of Melbourne Archives). Bill Tully’s papers at the Noel Butlin Archives in Canberra includes records of CIET and AETA activities there.

I have worked with AETA Victoria and Friends of East Timor (FOET WA) on their collections, but in each case there’s still much work to be done. I know of similar collections in Hobart, Adelaide and Darwin but have no recent knowledge of progress on preserving them.

Let me know if you are aware of other collections elsewhere.

Timorese access

A key question remains. How do we achieve Timorese access to materials like this in Timor-Leste itself? More from me on this issue in coming weeks.