The tiny south pacific nation of East Timor has had a long and tumultuous history. While it has been touted as the first independent country of the 21st century, the government originally declared its independence in November of 1975. East Timor had spent over 300 years under Portuguese rule and the colonial influences did much to shape Timorese culture and society. As a result East Timor developed very differently from its neighbours and had little in common with the former Dutch colony that became Indonesia. Portuguese rule over East Timor was, like that in other colonies, oppressive and exploitive. The Portuguese assumed a paternal role over the inhabitants of East Timor, regarding their own culture as superior. Rebellions were brutally suppressed and Portuguese customs, and values along with the Portuguese
language were imposed on the Timorese. Despite this oppression independence movements in the colony remained strong. Political parties, once they were legalized, quickly formed and groups advocating independence won wide spread support. Following the trend towards decolonization is South East Asia Portugal allowed political parties as a step towards indpendence and democracy in East Timor. However the Portuguese failed to ensure the security of East Timor. The was result was that nine days after it had declared its independence from Portugal, East Timor was invaded by neighbouring Indonesia. What followd was a quarter century of brutal oppression in which saw a quarter of the Timorese population lose their lives at the hands of Indonesian troops. The failure of the Portuguese decolonization policies cleared the way for the genocide which occurred in East Timor.
Until the 1880s Portuguese
influnece in East Timor was strong, but not complete and the Timorese had been able to maintain their distinct cultural and religious heritages well into the nineteenth century. At this time Portugal was rapidly falling behind its colonial rivals both economically and militarily and thus sought to more fully exploit the economic potential of East Timor. In 1887, using the assassination of the colonial governor as a pretext, the Portuguese government instituted harsh new economic programs designed to undermine the existing Timorese clan system, and bring the entire colony under the control of the colonial government. These plicies led to much resentemtn of the Portuguese by the Timorese people and culminated in a massive uprising beginning 1910. The revolt lasted two years and was finally put down by Portuguese troops in 1912. The result of the uprising was the death of over 3000 Timorese and the intrdouction of a new administrative system which abolished the remaining Timroese kingdoms and chiefdoms and placed all power in the hands of the Portuguese . However, at the village level traditional titles and roles still existed. They were used by the Portuguese to exercise control at the local levels. This meant that by the mid 1920s East Timor had two forms of government. One was the imposed European central government based in Dili and the others were the traditional local governmets which had existed for hundreds of years.
On the cultural level the Portuguese
had mixed success. It is imortant to note that there was no one Timorese culture. The native Timorese were firmly divided along geopgraphic, cultural and lingusitic lines. The island contains no less than eighteen ethnolingusitc groups. Although they have many shared practices and histories they still wee still divided and lacked a single national consciousness.
On the religious levelRoman Catholic missionararies had great success in spreading Catholicism throughout the population. Even in 1992 after almost twenty years of brutal oppression by an Islamic government 90% of East Timorese people still identified themselves as Roman Catholic. The Portuguese language was promoted thorugh the church. While it was never adopted...
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