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Facts About Timor
History - Early History

The discovery of some artefacts and evidence of pre-agricultural societies may mean that Timor was home to Homo erectus, early hominoids related to Java Man that settled the Indonesian archipelago up to one million years ago. Evidence of modern human settlement on Timor dates back at least 13,000 years, when the Austronesian peoples of Asia migrated throughout the eastern islands. These hunter-gatherers were joined by later migrants from Asia, who introduced agriculture around 2000 BC. Little is known of Timor before 1500 AD, though Chinese and Javanese traders visited the island from at least the 13th century, and possibly as early as the 7th century. Traders visited coastal settlements in search of the plentiful sandalwood (prized for its aroma and for the medicinal santalol made from the oil) and beeswax.

Timor was divided into a number of small kingdoms, which were little more than tribal groupings involved in frequent skirmishes, with head-hunting a popular activity. The Dawan (or Atoni) people, thought to be the earliest inhabitants of Timor, were the largest group in western Timor, but were divided into numerous small kingdoms. The Tetum (or Belu) people, the other major ethnic group, migrated to Timor in the 14th century, settling the fertile central regions and pushing the Dawan westward. Their origins are uncertain, but they call their homeland Malaka, and they may well have migrated from the Malay peninsula. From their fertile base, that today straddles the West Timor/East Timor border they expanded until four of their tribes had formed kingdoms and pushed further into East Timor.

Portuguese & Dutch

The first Europeans in Timor were the Portuguese, perhaps as early as 1509. Portuguese trading ships regularly visited the north coast in search of sandalwood. It wasn't until 1568 that Dutch traders first arrived in Timor. For the next 500 years the Dutch and Portuguese competed for control of Timor. Portugal's era of influence really begins in 1556 at Lifau (in present-day Ambenu) when Dominican friars established a settlement and set about converting the Timorese to Catholicism. Official Portuguese efforts were minimal, and colonisation was left to a handful of Dominicans in the hope that conversion would spread Portuguese influence and keep out the Dutch.

A Dutch expedition, led by Apollonius Scottie, sailed to Kupang in 1613 and negotiated with the local ruler to build a fort in return for Dutch military help against competing tribes. Dutch claims to Timor dated from this time, but Scottie didn't act on the agreement and it was to be 40 years before the Dutch showed any interest in Timor. Although they occasionally harried the nearby Portuguese settlement on Solor, the Dutch were more concerned with the lucrative spice islands of Maluku to the north. Away from the coast, a dozen or so Timorese kingdoms held sway over the island with no interference from the colonial powers until 1642. The most dominant kingdom in the west was the Dawan kingdom of Wehali, based around the present-day region of Belu, was the most powerful in central-east Timor.

In 1642, Francisco Fernandes landed in Naikliu and led a Portuguese military expedition to weaken the power of the Timor kings. With the assistance of Timorese allies, Fernandes marched across Sonbai territory, around present-day Kapang, and after successes there went on to Wehali. His small army of musketeers was comprised primarily of Topasses, the mestizo group from the Portuguese settlements at Larantuka (Flores) and Pulau Solor. the Christian, Portuguese-speaking Topasses, called 'Black Portuguese' by the Dutch, were descended from intermarriage between the Solorese, Portuguese and slaves from Portuguese colonies in India and Meluka. After this show of strength, the Topasses settled in Timor, at Lifau on the coast and then further inland around present-day Kefamenanu and Niki Niki. these strangers representing a far-off, powerful kingdom were welcomed by local rulers and given land. Although acting on behalf of Portugal, through intermarriage they went on to form their own kingdoms and became a power into themselves. Two clans of Topasses, the de Ornai and the da Costa clans, integrated into the local community and became the new rajas, controlling most of Timor, but not without skirmishes among themselves.

The Dutch, unsettled by growing Portuguese influence, arrived in Kupang in 1653 to take their claim on Timor. First they fortified Kupang, and then they set about controlling the surrounding area. They forged alliances with local rulers around the Bay of Kupang, but a Dutch military expedition to the south was soundly defeated by Timorese and Topasse forces. In the same year, 1656, a Portuguese was appointed to administer the settlement at Lifau, making it the first real Portuguese colony on Timor. When the Portuguese commander died, a Topasse capitao was appointed in 1663 and the Topasses went on to consolidate their power. In 1701, the Portuguese viceroy of Goa appointed a governor to control Lifau, but he lasted only until 1705 when he was driven out by the Topasses. The Portuguese returned to Lifau, but their power was tenuous at beast. by 1749, the Topasses controlled central Timor and marched on Kuipang to confront the Dutch. although outnumbered, the Dutch won and killed many Topasse leaders at the battle of Penfui, the site of Kupang airport today.

The Dutch in Kupang, comprising only a handful of Veerigede Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) officers, became the major force on Timor through alliances with inland chiefs and further military campaigns. The Portuguese, however, had to abandon Lifau in 1769 after more attacks from the Topasses, and the colony was moved east to Dili, the present-day capital of east Timor. Although the VOC assumed the upper hand, their control was marginal and they relied on Timorese allies for power. Roti became the greatest ally of the Dutch. After the Dutch invaded Roti in 1681, it became a source of slaves. Roti provided soldiers for the Dutch army and, after the Rotinese ruler converted to Christianity in 1729, they petitioned the Dutch to provide schools. The Rotinese became an educated elite, and are still very prominent in West Timor today. the Dutch favoured the Rotinese's advancement and migration to Kupang to counter Timorese power.

Conflict continued throughout the 19th century - between Timorese kingdoms and against the Dutch. The Dutch were firmly ensconced in Kupang, but unable and unwilling to control the interior. The VOC went bankrupt in 1799, leaving the Dutch government to assume direct control, but they ignored far-flung Kupang which held little economic interest. Trade was largely conducted by Chinese merchants, and the Dutch colony was neglected. It was a similar story in the east, where the Portuguese held on to power through strategic alliances against attacks from local chiefs. Portuguese settlement was minimal and the colony was ruled from Macau on the Chinese coast. Chinese outnumbered Europeans in Portuguese Timor, and the colony also had to cope with Chinese rebellions. The sandalwood trade began to die, and coffee, introduced as a cash crop in 1815, became the principle concern of the Portuguese. 

Dutch-Portuguese conflict was mostly confined to Flores and the Dutch finally took Larantuka in 1851, forcing negotiations that resulted in the Treaty of Lisbon in 1859. the Portuguese relinquished all claims on Flores, and Timor was divided t6o half, but the split was not formalised until a further treaty in 1904, with a slight rejigging of borders right up until 1916. Portugal claimed the east and the north coast pocket of Oecussi in the west, based around Lifau, while Holland received the rest of the west.

20th Century

The 20th century brought the greatest changes to Timor as the colonial powers increased their involvement. The new Dutch policy was to rule all of the East Indies possessions directly, establishing Dutch government throughout the archipelago. In 1905, Kupang was ordered to bring the local chiefs to heel. The various kingdoms were required to swear allegiance in Holland and admit to the authority of a Dutch Controller. In return, they were given autonomy to rule their principalities and collect taxes for the Dutch administration. Rebellions broke out across West Timor from 1906 onwards and the Dutch reacted swiftly. In Niki Niki, Dutch forces surrounded the royal compound and the royal family self-immolated rather then yield to the Dutch. Rebellions continued right up until 1916, when the last kingdoms succumbed to Dutch rule. It was a similar story in Portuguese Timor, which had become a separate colony from Macau in 1896. The crunch came in 1910 when the Portuguese raised taxes and introduced a forced labour policy to increase plantation productivity. Rebellions broke out and continued up until 1915.

In Dutch Timor, roads and schools were built, but most of the population outside the regional centres had little contact with the Dutch, except for aggressive, mostly Protestant, missionary activity. Control was limited and the traditional rajas held sway under a Dutch hegemony. Life in Portuguese Timor through a similar traditional system of local chiefs ()liurai), who acted as Portuguese agents, but control outside Dili was very limited, despite early pacification campaign in the interior.

World War II

The Japanese forces swept aside the colonial powers in their rapid march through Asia. Following air attacks which began in January 1942, the Japanese landed outside Kupang on 20 February and quickly took the city. Australian soldiers had earlier landed in Kupang, but were soon pushed backed to Camplong, and those not captured joined Australian forces stationed in Dili. Known as Sparrow Force, they continued a guerilla war with the backing of Timorese in the villages, conducting hit and run raids on Japanese positions in East Timor. Less than 400 allied soldiers killed as many 1500 Japanese troops and tied up many more for nearly a year. Ultimately they were driven to the south coast by the Japanese juggernaut and had to evacuate.

As elsewhere in Asia, the Japanese promised independence and an end to the yolk of colonialism. Their promises were well received, but it soon became obvious that the Japanese were even harsher masters. Forced labour was used to build Japanese bases and as the war wore on, food was appropriated causing starvation in the countryside. When the war in the Pacific swung in favour of the Allies in 1944-45, Timor was isolated, causing even further hardship.


After the Japanese surrendered on 15 August 1945, Australian forces occupied Timor until the Dutch returned to claim their colony. Indonesia declared independence on 17 August 1945, but while Java was rocked by a bloody independence war, the eastern islands were largely calm. West Timor became part of the state of Negara Indonesia Timor, the Dutch answer to divide Indonesia under a Dutch government. When the Dutch finally decided to quit Indonesia in 1949, 'West Timor became part of the in dependent Republic of Indonesia, but not without some disturbances and calls for independence. In East Timor a nascent independence movement had arisen, but Portugal swiftly claimed its old colony and it remained Portuguese up until the tragic events of 1975.

Regional administration in West Timor remained largely in control of the local rajas until restructuring began in 1958. The abolition of the traditional rulers' power still rankles among the royal families today. For many years the rajas, not civil administrators, were considered by the people to be the rightful leaders, but most rajas from the time of independence are now dead. The royal families still command great respect, but their hold on traditional rule is finally waning. Eastern Indonesia was largely forgotten for many years and on Timor, away from the main Kupang-Atambua highway, many communities remained isolated. Since 1988, Nusa Tenggara has been targeted for development by the central government. New roads have been pushed into the interior and old ones sealed. Despite rapidly increasing access to modernity and wholesale conversion to Christianity, traditional ways are very strong outside Kupang.


Timor is very different from the rest of Nosa Tenggara. The line of volcanoes that runs the length of the Indonesian archipelago from Sumatra to Flores, skirts Timor and continues north to the islands of Maluku. Timor has no volcanoes and is geologically related to Australia. Timor was once part of the Australian continental shelf, and was a submerged island which drifted from the Australian land mass as it moved northwards and collided with the Eurasian plate. Parts of Timor emerged from the ocean up to 40 million years ago, but the island only full emerged some four million years ago, and is therefore comprised mainly of marine sediment, principally limestone, and even Timor's highest peaks are home to marine fossils. Collision with the Banda Trench to the north resulted in a rapid uplift in the centre of the island, producing a significant mountain range that continues to grow.

Apart from the lowland hills in the south-west around Kupang, rugged mountains run the length of the island. Several peaks are over 2000m, the highest being Gunnung Titamailan (1963m) in East Timor, while the highest in West Timor in Gunung Mutis (2427m). Coastal plains are narrow, and there are no major highland valleys or significant rivers. Rocky, limestone soils and low rainfall make agriculture difficult, resulting in food and water shortages in the dry season. The dry north coast is very barren in the dry season when the winds from Australia are blocked by the mountains. But Timor has many micro-systems, and the central mountains range from dry rocky hills to thickly forested peaks. As you cross over to the south coast, the countryside is generally lusher and coastal basins such as the Belu district are fertile.


Timor has extreme wet and dry seasons. The dry season is very dry from May to November, when the north coast gets virtually no rain, the hills brown-off and agricultural activity all but ceases. The arid landscapes, particularly on the north coast of East Timor, are reminiscent of Australia, and temperatures soar around October/November. The cooler central mountains and the south coast get an occasional shower during this time, and are generally green. This is the season for sitting around the village, weaving, repairing houses and trading produce to survive the 'hungry season' until the rains come again and crops can be planted. To remedy the water problem, there is an intensive program of small earth-dam building. When the rains come they often turn to floods and the wide stony rivers that are dust in the dry season become torrents. Roads are cut and landslides are common. Timor is transformed as gardens are planted and the land turns green. The forest areas and the lusher central south coast is steamy and almost tropical. The completion of the wet season, just after the harvest, is the time for festivities.

Kupang receives an annual rainfall of around 1500mm, half of a falling in the wettest months of January and February. Dili is drier, with an average rainfall of around 1000mm, most of it falling from December to March. In the west, the north-west monsoon starts earlier and finishes later, so the west of the island is slightly wetter than the east. The south coast is wetter than the north, and high rainfall occurs in the central south coast and in the southern mountains of East Timor. but weather patterns are erratic and the mountains create many microclimates. Day temperatures are around 30 to 33'C (86 to 91.4'F) in the lowland areas, dropping to the low 20s overnight. In the mountain areas such as Soe, at 800m, day temperatures are still warm to hot, but night temperatures can drop down to a more chilly 15'C (59'F) or lower at greater altitudes. At the end of the day season, parts of the north coast swelter with temperatures over 35'C (95'F), but humidity is low compared with the sticky heat in other parts of Indonesia.


The majority of the population practices ladang (slash and burn) agriculture. Corn is the staple crop, but rice, cassava, millet and sweet potatoes are also important. Dry rice is important, and some irrigated rice is grown in the river valleys, but it is primarily for the wealthy, most villages rely on corn. Buffalo and cattle are extensively reared, and pigs and chickens play an important role in the village economy. The lontar palm is also important, as in most of Nosa Tenggara, and betel nut is grown everywhere because of its ritual importance. The sandalwood trade trailed off into insignificance by 1923 as over-harvesting threatened it to extinction. Sandalwood is being replanted and is protected. It can only be harvested under government licence. Timor has little industry, for the Timor Gap, lying between Australia and Timor, has rich offshore oil and natural gas deposits. The Timor Gap Treaty between the Australian and Indonesian governments, signed in 1989, splits the profits between the two countries, and many believe the deal explains the Australian government's lack of pressure on the East Timor issue. Exploration began in 1993 and major installations to support drilling and processing are planned for Kupang. A support base is also slated for Suai in East Timor. However, most oil operations are based in Darwin.

The economy in East Timor has always languished and the war killed off what little enterprise existed. The Chinese merchant class fled East Timor when the Portuguese left and the Indonesian army confiscated Portuguese enterprises after the invasion, resulting in corruption and inefficiency. Once t6he main source of income, the coffee plantation declined, but under the direction of American aid groups the plantations are being rehabilitated and the East Timorese coffee is exported. The Indonesian government is keen to highlight its development in East Timor. It is true that, compared with the Portuguese, Indonesia has made a big investment in roads, hospitals and schools to win over the hearts (and the minds) of the Timorese and the international community, but East Timor is still very poor. Exploration before 1975 revealed potential gold and oil deposits in East Timor, but until the political problems are received, the foreign investment needed for further exploration is unlikely to be forthcoming.

Tourism is a growing industry, but members are low. The Kupang area gets a steady trickle of tourists - Darwin residents who take the short flight over or backpackers over-landing it from south-East Asia to Australia - but most stay only a few days and few venture into the mountains, the most interesting part of Timor. Before 1975, East Timor was the main tourist destination. Good beaches and a lazy Portuguese ambience made it popular, but the Indonesians burst that bubble in a big way. Even though East Timor can again be visited, you'll be hard pressed to meet any other tourists. While the provincial government in East Timor is keen to promote tourism, the army is less than enthusiastic at the prospect of foreigners roaming around and observing events.


Timor has a population of more than two million people; around 840,000 in East6 Timor and 1.3 million in West Timor. Timor has an extraordinary ethnic diversity. The two main groups are the Dawan (Atoni) of central West Timor, and the neighbouring Tetum (Belu) who extend into central East Timor, but Timor has up to 15 other ethno-linguistic groups, most of whom live in East Timor. The Dawan and Tetum languages are related to other Austronesian languages in western Indonesia, from where these primarily Malay people migrated. However, the population of Timor is of very mixed decent, with a strong Papuan influence. This is particularly true in East Timor, where many people have more noticeably Melanesian features. Many of the East Timorese languages are of the Trans-New Guinea family, related to those of Maluku and Irian Jaya to the north-east.

In West Timor, the Dawan are the main ethnic group with a population of around 700,000 and the Tetum are the second largest with around 150,000 living in the Belu area. Smaller indigenous groups are the Helong (10,000), who live south-west of Kapung and on Pulau Semau, and the Bunak (20,000 in West Timor) who straddle the border with East Timor. The people of the nearby islands of Roti and Sabu are major immigrant groups in West Timor. The Rotinese in particular exert a great influence and many hold prominent positions in commerce and government. Kupang is very much the melting pot of the Nusa Tenggara Timor province, attracting migrants from Flores and Sumba, as well as Chinese, Buginese, Arab and other groups.

East Timor has an even greater ethnic mix, with at least a dozen indigenous groups. The Tetum are the largest group (around 250,000 people, possibly more), and live in western East Timor, along the south coast around Suai, as well as around Dili and Viqueque. The next largest group (around 90,000 people) are the Mambai in the mountains south of Dili around Maubissde, Ainaro and Same. The Kemak (60,000 people) live in replaced by plain wooden doors. The one kebubu are small and smoky and the authorities have initiated a program to replace them. the villagers, however, consider their new houses unhealthy, as they're cold, so they construct new ume kebubu behind the approved houses. Ume kebubu are also designed to store grain, particularly corn, which is kept in the roof, and the smoke from kitchen fires keeps the bugs away. Many other styles of traditional house are found in Timor. Belu houses are of rectangular design, raised off the ground because of flooding, and an external wooden skeleton supports the thatch roof. Bunak houses (deuhoto) are conical, but much larger than Dawan houses. There are wide differences in the traditional houses of East Timor, but the Fataluku houses found on the eastern tip of Timor are unique. These tall, elongated houses have stilts supporting a main living room and are topped by a high, tapering thatch roof.

Dance and Music

Timor has a wide variety of dance and music styles, reflecting its ethnic mix. Around October/November each year an all-Timor cultural festival is held, or a different town every year, and it is an excellent event to see performances from all the cultures of Timor. Dances may also accompany the harvest, the building of a rumah adat (traditional house), weddings and other occasions. The most popular dance is the Tebe-tebe, also known as the Tebetai, performed throughout West Timor and in parts of East Timor. This circle dance is accompanied byh a drum, but in the Kupang area it is accompanied by singing only.

The Likurai is primarily a Tetum dance once performed to welcome the warriors returning from battle. Women danced with a small drum (babadok) tucked under the arm and would circle the village compound where heads taken in battle would be displayed. Today it is performed by unmarried women as a courtship dance. The Bidu is danced by girls and is a common Dawan dance. It shows the weaving process and is accompanied by a bijola, a lute-style of instrument, and the fiol, a Timorese violin. Both instruments reflect the Portuguese influence. Bamboo flutes and gongs (butaki) are also common musical instruments. Sets of gongs, which are usually play3d by women, are often revered heirlooms hundreds of years old. The most distinctive instrument is the sasando from Roti - it is often used as a symbol for Nusa Tenggara Timor province. This multi-stringed instrument has a resonating bowl made from lontar leaves and a neck of bamboo. It is played with two hands, something like a harp.


Timor is overwhelming Christian, although many animist beliefs and practices continue, and conversion is not complete. West Timor is 86% Protestant, mostly Lutheran, and 10% Catholic, mostly in the regency of Timor Tengah Ultara (around Kefamenanu). East Timor is more than 90% Catholic and the church is a rallying point for the East Timorese. The church in  East Timor has resisted 'integration' into the Indonesia Church and reports directly to Rome. Masses are no longer conducted in Portuguese; Tetum is used instead.


Dawan (or Meto) is the main language of West Timor, and its 700,000 speakers are divided into at least seven main dialect groups. Geographically, Tetum is the most widely spoken language on Timor; with around 400,000 native speakers in West and East Timor) in three main dialect groups. Dili Tetum, a fourth dialect with many appropriated Portuguese words, has relatively few native speakers, but many East Timorese speak it as a second language. It has long existed as an unofficial lingua franca in East Timor, where Portuguese was only ever spoken by an educated minority.

Other minor languages in West Timor are Helong and Bunak (which is also spoken in East Timor). Other East Timorese languages include Mambai, Kemak, Fataluku, Makasai, Galoli and Tokodede. There's even more minor languages in the east (some with only a few thousand speakers, some with only a few hundred), including Idatge, Karui, Lakalei, Naneti, Habu and Waima'a Maku'a, spoken at the eastern tip around Tutuala, is now almost extinct. To these languages can be added Sabunese, from the island of Sabu, and Rotinese, from Roti. However, the people of Roti speak 18 dialects that are vastly different from each other. The tiny island of Ndao, just off the coast of Roti, has a different language again.

Not surprisingly, Indonesian is the main linking language id is widely, but not universally, spoken throughout Timor. You will still come across villages where Indonesian isn't understood by adults, although all school children speak it. Indonesian is the first language of many people in Kupang. Long before Indonesian became the national language, Malay was used in Kupang and as a result the cityh has developed a unique slang. English is usually not spoken outside the cities. Some Indonesian is essential if travelling to the villages, and a guide who speaks the local dialect (not just the local language) may be needed. In East Timor, Portuguese was the language of instruction in schools up until 1975, and many educated people speak it well. It also tends to be the language of resistance, given that most Indonesians do not speak it.

Getting There And Around

Meripati's international connection between Kupang and Darwin in Australia flies in both directions on Wednesday and Sunday. From Australia the published fare is $396 return or $244 one way rising to $536 return and $319 one way in the high season (December and January). Tickets can be bought from Meropati in Darwin or through travel agents, but there is very little discounting.

From Kupang to Darwin the price is US$180 one way, often slightly cheaper through a travel agent in Kupang. You won't be allowed on the plane without an Australian visa - obtainable in Denpasar or Jakarta, not Kupang.

Elsewhere in Indonesia

Kupang is an important travel hub. Merpati flies 737s directly to Denpasar and mid-sized planes to Maumere and then on to Buna and Denpasar. These are usually reliable flights and can be booked from overseas or from other parts of Indonesia. Merpati flies small places from Kupang direct to Dili. Kalabahi, Roti, Waingapu, Ruteng and Ende. These are subject to cancellation and it can bhe hard to find a seat at short notice in peak travel times. Sempati has direct flights to Dili and Surabaya in Java. Bouraq has unreliable flights to Waingapu and Maimere, with onward connections. ]

To/From the Airport

For details on getting to/from the airport in Kupang, see Getting Around in the following Kupang section (below).


The Kupang-Dili highway via Soe, Kefamenanu and Atambua is one of the best in the eastern islands and travel is relatively quick between the major towns. regular buses run throughout the day to the main destinations and quicker night buses run between Kupang and Dili. Just like the buses on the other islands, the buses on Timor are small, non  air-con, cramped and leave only when full. The long-distance buses don't stop everywhere and they are generally not as crowded as those that do shorter trips. In Kupang and Dili you will have to go to terminals on the outskirts of town to catch a bus, but in most other towns buses will drop off and pick up at hotels. Most hotels can arrange bus tickets. Off the main highway, crowded and uncomfortable buses, bemos and trucks run to the villages. 


Kupang is the hub for ferries and Pelni passenger boats to other parts of Nusa Tenggara Timor. Regular car and passenger ferries run from Kupang to Larantuka (Flores), Kalabahi (Alor), Roti, and Wangapu (Sumba) via Sabu. Pelni passenger ships run directly from Kuipang to Dili, Ende, Larantuka and Roti with onward sailing to other ports in Nusa Tenggara, as well as other parts of Indonesia such as Sulawesi, Maluku, Irian Java and Java. From Atapuipu, near Atambua in West Timor, a ferry runs once a week to/from Kalabhahi. Pelni boats connect Dili with Kupang, Kota Ambon (Maluku) and Larantuka.


A motorcycle or a car with driver can always be found, but Timor receives relatively few tourists and has no regular rental agencies. It is a case of asking around at your boat or at travel agents. Kupang is by far the best place to arrange car or motorcycle rental and it is much more difficult and expensive elsewhere in Timor. Kupang has a number of private, unmetered taxis and if yu can negotiate directly with the driver it will be cheaper. Bemos can be chartered in the larger regional towns such as Soe, Kefamenanu and Atambua. As many Timor's attractions are remote villages, it is a good idea to take a guide. Guides can arrange transport.


Kupang is the name of Timor's largest city and capital of Nusa Tenggara Timor (NTT) province, which covers West Timor, Roti, Sabu, the Solor and Alor archipelagos, Sumba, Flores and Komodo. Kupang is also the name of the kahuopaten (regency) that includes the south-western of Timor and the islands of Roti and Sabu. Roti has the beaches and is easily reached by ferry from Kupang, while Sabu is much more remote. Kupang city is a busy hub with international flights to Darwin. Some reasonable beaches can be found around town and a number of day trips can be made further afield.


Although only a small city, Kupang is a booming metropolis compared with the overgrown villages that pass for towns in other parts of Nusa Tenggara. Kupang attracts migrants from all over NTT province who come to seek work or study at Kupang's universities. As such, it comes equipped with footpaths, brightly coloured bemos with sophisticated sound systems and a nightlife of sorts. The centre is busy, noisy and untidy; the wealthier residential areas are in the suburbs. The eastern outskirts are home to oversized government buildings, but even these monuments are not enough for the burgeoning bureaucracy and plans are afoot to move the regional administration to a new, planned city across the harbour at Sulamu. Government is Kupang's biggest enterprise and, apart from a solitary cement factory, the city has no industry to speak of. Nevertheless, migrants continue to be attracted by the lights of the 'big city' and the promise of a better life. Some find comparatively high-paying jobs, but many others are forced to scrape a living on the streets selling cigarettes or bakso (meatball soup). In the villages of Flores, Somba and elsewhere, you'll be told that Kupang is the crime centre of NTT, representing all the evils of the modern world. The local press reports any crime in great detail, but Kupang is a safe and easy-going city by most standards. Kupang's diverse ethnic mix means less social cohesion, but the citizens of Kupang have their own identity and their own local slang, much of it derived from Malay, the lingua franca of trade used in Dutch times.

Above all, Kupang is an optimistic city and many believe the inflated claims that it will one day become Indonesia's second most important trading port after the capital city of Jakarta. In spite of Indonesia's current economic woes, the exploitation of oil in the Timor Sea does point to a bright future for Kupang. Strong ties and growing trade with nearby Darwin in Australia are also a source of great optimism. Merpati's twice weekly Darwin to Kupang flights have put Kupang well and truly on the South-East Asia travellers' route. Although not brimming with tourist attraction, Kupang is not a bad place to hang around for a few days - Captain Bligh did after his Bounty misadventures.


The VOC occupied Kupang in the middle of the 17th century, primarily to counter any Portuguese claims to eastern Indonesia. The Dutch campaign began with Apollonia Scottie, also set sail for the eastern islands in 1613, sacking the Portuguese fort in Solor before sailing on To Kupang Bay. He reached agreement with the local Helong raja to establish a Dutch post on Timor, but after Scottie's departure the VOC promptly forgot all about Timor.

The Portuguese Dominican continued their part missionary/part strategic expansion in the east and settled Kupang in the 1640s. They built a fort but it was abandoned and only partly finished when the Dutch arrived in 1653 to finally claim their territory. The Dutch completed the fort with the backing of the local raja and named it Port Concordia, but it was attacked by the Timorese under the command of the Topasses. Military reinforcements arrived in 1656 to drive out the Topasses, but after a disastrous military defeat in the interior, the Dutch almost abandoned Kupang in favour of Roti. Kupang remained an isolated Dutch outpost and, apart from the lowlands around Kuang, the Topasses con trolled Timor into the 18th century. Early reports of Kupang are mixed, but while the Dutch elite may have attempted o recreate the sumptuous lifestyle of home in Holland, by all accounts it was a bedraggled, insignificant little colony. Still, as the region's only European port of any significance, it attracted a number of seafarers. Early explorers such as William Dampier called in at Kupang in 1699, but Captain Cool, wary of its reputation for debauchery, sailed on by in 1770. Captain Bligh made beeline for Kupang in 1789 after the mutiny on the HMS Bounty and had nothing but praise for the hospitality and comforts of the town after his mammoth six week, 5800 km journey in an open longboat.

The Topasses, the new rajas of Timor, continued to expand their power and in 1749, with most of Timor under their control, they marched on Kupang. Although outnumbered, the Dutch and their Timorese allies in the south-west defeated the Topasses, and Dutch influence in the interior expanded. Timor was, however, very much a sideshow by the Dutch. Supplies of sandalwood had dwindled, and by the late 18th century Kuipang was little more than a symbol of the Dutch presence in Nusa Tenggara. Not until 1905, when it became Dutch policy to establish direct control, did they pay much attention to the interior of the island. The original inhabitants of the Kupang area were the Helong. Squeezed by the Dawan from the Sonbai kingdom to the west, the Helong had, by the 17th century, been limited to a small coastal strip at the western tip of the island. Later, partly because of the Dutch-supported migration to Kupang of people from the nearby island of Roti, most of the Helong migrat4ed to the small island of Semau (off Kupang). 


Kopang is hilly and the central area hugs the waterfront. The central bemo terminal, Kota Kupang (or simply Terminal), almost doubles as a town square, although you're not likely to take a leisurely stroll across it with bemos coming at you from all directions. Many of the shops and restaurants are around this sprawling market area. Compared without her modern Indonesian cities, Kupang has no real department stores or shopping complexes, but JI Jenderal Sudirman near the Hotel Flobamor II has a couple of small supermarkets - this is Kupang's most upmarket shopping area. Kupang's El Tari airport is 15km east of town; Tenau harbour is 10km west.


Tourist Offices Kupang has three tourist offices - representing the oriental provincial and regional governments - but all are a long way from the centre of town and hardly worth the effort. The most helpful is Dipanda Kupang (21540), the regional government tourist office at JI El Tari 338, grouped with other government offices east of Kupang. The office has only a few brochures and maps, but is keen to help. To get there, take bemo No 10 or 7. Get off at 21 JI Raya El Tari at the SMPS secondary school and walk 200m east. The office is open Monday to Thursday from 7 am to 2 pm, Friday 7 to 11 am and Saturday 7 am to 12.30 pm.

Money Kupang is the best place to change money in Nusa Tenggara outside Lombok. TheBank Dagang Negara, at JI Urip Sumohardjo 16, is central and has excellent rates. It is open 6 am to 3.30 pm fro Monday to Friday. Kupang has plenty of other books with competitive rates. If you want a cash advance on Visa or MasterCard, get it to Kupang. The currency exchange office at Kupang airport is open when flights arrive from Darwin.

Post & Communications Post restante mail goes to the central post office, Kantor Pos Besar at JI Palapa 1 - take bemo No 5. In central Kupang, a branch post office is at JI Soekarno 29. The Telkom office is at JI Urip Sumohandjo II. Home Country Direct phones are at the Telkom office and in the lobby of the Kristal Hotel.

Museum NTT

The Museum Nus Tenggarah Timor, near the tourist office, is worth a look for a taste of what you're heading into, or to round out your Nusa Tenggara experience. It houses a good collection of arts, crafts and artefacts from all over the province. Aurora Arby, an anthropologist, will be happy to show you around. To get there, take  No 10 bemo from the Terminal. It's open daily from 8 am to 3 pm. Entry is free, but drop a donation in the box as you leave.

Colonial Kupang

Unfortunately, there's not much to see here despite the long Dutch occupation. The only Dutch buildings are from the final colonial days. The Protestant church on JI Sockarno dates from the 19th century and rings with hymns on Sunday evenings when half of Kupang turns out.

Port Concordia has long since passed into oblivion and is now the Indonesian army garrison, just over the river from the church, on JI Pahlawan. All that remains is an inscribed stone, and entry to see it requires a permit. Further along, you can visit the old Dutch cemetery where numerous gravestones survive. The river used to be Kupang's main port and is where Bligh anchored after his epic journey. Dubbed 'Children's Creek' because of the sludgy brown appearance, it turns into a real river in the wet season when boys in inner tubes white-water raft it, 5km upstream in the outskirts of Kupang.


The main market is the rambling Pasar Inpres off JI Soeharto in the south of the city. to get there, take bemo No 1 or 2 and follow the crowd when you get off. It sells mostly fruit and vegetables, but some crafts and ikat can be found. A lesser market is on JI Alor, 2 km east of the town centre.

Pulau Kera (Monkey Island)

Pulau Kera is the blob of trees and sand visible from Kupang. This small, uninhabited island has sandy beaches and clear water. Taman Ria Beach Inn organises day trips, or you could talk to the people operating the fishing boats.


Kupang's beaches are grubby, but they get better the further you go from town. The beach at Taman Ria, 3km from the town centre, is the best place for a swim, or keep headingout to9 OPantai Lasiana (12km east, or Tablolong, 15km south-west of Kupang.

Organized Tours

Many fascinating traditional villages can be visited on Timor, but Indonesian (let alone English) may not be spoken so a local guide is often necessary. Although you can visit a number of villages alone, Timor is still a wild place in parts and a guide is essential if heading off into the unknown. guides do the rounds of the hotels, particularly the backpackers places, and will ask around 20,000 rp per day. They can put together some excellent trips. You pay for public transport, accommodation and food, or the guide can arrange a motorcycle. One of the best guides is Aka Nahak, who speaks a number of Timorese languages, as well as excellent  English.

Many hotels also arrange trips around Kupang and across Timor. The Hotel Susi has overnight, all-inclusive-tours to Soe, Niki Niki, Kapan and other destinations from 320,000 rp for one person or 110,000 rp per person for a group of six. Hotel Flobamor JI has a variety of tours for a minimum of four, from four hour city tours (USS$15) to Soe day trips (US$30).

Dive Trips Nusa Tenggara has some of Indonesia's best diving and Kuipang is a good place to arrange diving trips. Graeme and Donavan Whitford (21154, fax 24833), two Australian dive masters based in Kupang, specialise in diving strips to Alor, and can also arrange dives around Timor and further afield.

Places to Stay - budget

Accommodation in Kupang is spread out, and many of the hotels have a range of prices, so the bottom, middle and top en d overlap to some extent. There are also some good options a little further out if you want to escape the bustle of central Kupang. Kupang is a little more expensive than other cities in Nusa Tenggara, but the existence of dorm accommodation seems to be an extension of the Australian backpackers' network rather than a necessity through high prices.

Two popular budget options, despite their distance from town, are found in a qutet area on JI Kencil. Eden Homestay (21931) at No 6 is opposite a shady freshwater pool, the local swimming spot known as Air Nona Bungalows are about as basic as they get but for 4000 rp per person it is hard to complain.

East Timor

East Timor (Timor Timor or simply Tim Tim), a former Portuguese colony, has been open for travel since 1989, when foreign tourists were allowed to visit for the first time since Indonesia invaded and took it over in 1975. Very few visitors experience East Timor's charms because of its troubled reputation, but East Timor is not a war zone. Occasional guerilla raids are still directed against the army in remote areas, but Dili, the capital, is easily visited and travel is possible throughout East Timor. this is a beautiful land and the Portuguese influence, though fading, gives East Timor a unique character. Dili is a graceful city with many reminders of Portugal. Most visitors only make it to Dili, but it is well worth venturing into the countryside. the north coast, the driest part of Timor and almost a desert in the dry season, has some fine beaches and colonial towns such as Baucau.  In contrast, rugged mountains run the length of East Timor and the interior is lush. Old Portuguese forts dot the countryside and former colonial hill stations provide a cooling break from the heat of the coast.

One is left pondering what might have been East Timor could be the biggest travel destination in the region, but while you'll see little evidence of political unrest, it is impossible to forget its tragedy. Travel in East Timor can be very rewarding, but it is not always comfortable.


Until the end of the 19th century, Portuguese authority over their half of the island was never very strong. Their control was often effectively opposed by the liurai, the native Timorese rulers, and the Tupasses, the influential descendants of local women, and Portuguese men and slaves from Melaka and India. The Dominican missionaries were also involved in revolts or opposition to the government. Eventually a series of rebellions between 1893 to 1912 led to bloody and conclusive 'pacification' by the colonisers. The colony had been on the decline much earlier, as the sandalwood trade fizzled out, and when Portugal fell into a depression aft4r WWI, East Timor drifted into an economic torpor. Neglected by Portugal, it was notable only for its modest production of high-quality coffee and as a distant place of exile for opponents of the Portuguese regime. The ordinary Timorese were subsistence farmers using the destructive ladang (slash-and-burn( system, with maize the main crop.

In WWII, although Portugal and its overseas territories were neutral, the Allies assumed that the Japanese would use Timor as a base from which to attack Australia. Several hundred Australian troops were sent to East Timor and, until their evacuation (in January 1943), they carried out a guerrilla war which tied down 20,000 Japanese troops, of which 1500 were killed. the Australian success was largely due to the support they received from the East Timorese, for whom the cost was phenomenal. Japanese soldiers razed whole villages, seized food supplies and killed Timorese in areas where the Australians were operating. In other areas the Japanese had incited rebellion against the Portuguese, which resulted in horrific repression when the Japanese left. by the end of the war, between 40,000 and 60,000 East Timorese had died.

After WWII, the Portuguese resumed full control. They remained until 1974, when a military coup in Portugal overthrew the Salazar dictatorship and the new government sought to discard the remnants of the empire so quickly as possible. With the real possibility of East Timor becoming an independent state, two major political groups - the Timorese Social Democrats (later known as Fretilin) and the Timorese Democratic Union (UDT) - quickly formed in the colony. A third group, known as Apodeti, was a minor player, but its stated preference for integration with Indonesia eventually turned it into little more than a front for Indonesia's goals. Although both major political groups advocated independence for East Timor, Fretilin gained the edge over the UDT, partly because of its more radical social policies. Indonesian leaders had had their eyes on East Timor since the 1940s and, as Fretlin was regarded by them as communist, they were itching for a reason to step into East Timor. Their opportunity came on 11 August 1975, when the UDT staged a coup in Dili which led to a brief civil war between it and Fretlin. Military superiority lay from the outset with Fretlin, by the end of August, the bulk of the fighting was over and the UDT withdrew to Indonesian West Timor.

Fretlin proved surprisingly effective in getting things back to normal, but by the end of September that year Indonesia was gearing up for a takeover. East Timor and Fretlin now faced Indonesia alone, the Portuguese were certainly not coming back. On 7 December the Indonesian launched their attack on Dili. From the start the invasion met strong resistance from Fretlin troops, who quickly proved their worth as guerilla fighters. Although East Timor was officially declared Indonesia's 27th province on 16 July 1976, Fretlin kept up regular attacks on the Indonesians, even on targets very close to Dili, until at least 1977. but gradually Indonesia's military strength and Fretlin's lack of outside support took their toll. The coast of the takeover to the East Timorese was huge. International humanitarian organisation estimate that in the hostilities, and the disease and famine that followed, at least 100,000 people died. Large sections of the population were relocated for 'security reasons' and lost contact with their ancestral sites.

By 1989 Fretlin had been pushed back to just a few hideouts in the far east of the island and Indonesia was confident enough to open up East Timor to foreign tourism. Then on 12 November 1991, about 1000 Timorese staged a rally at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili where they had gathered to commemorate the death of an independence activist two weeks earlier. Indonesian troops opened fire on the crowd and East Timor was once again in the world headlines. The severely embarrassed Indonesian government admitted to 19 deaths, but other reports claimed many more. East Timor remains a political thorn for Indonesia that will not go away. Although guerrilla activity is now isolated, the people continue to demonstrate and dissent is accompanied by arrests and torture by the security forces. Student rallies may be quickly crushed, but wider riots also occur. when an Indonesian officer reportedly attended a Christian mass and desecrated the host in September 1995, rioting spread across East Timor as the people vented their anger against Indonesian settlement. A similar incident occurred in Baguia in June 1996 and spread to Baucau. the 1997 Indonesian general elections prompted widespread protests and guerrilla activity, including the bombing of an army track. 

In 1996 Bishop Carlos Belo of Dili and Jose Ramos-Horta, Fretlin's UN representative, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in highlighting East Timor's struggle. The Indonesian government responded by reiterating its stance that it will never consider independence for East Timor. Jakarta will not even contemplate the relatively minor concession to make East Timor a duerah istimewa (special district), as is the case in Aceh and Yogyakarta, giving it limited self-rule within the Indonesian republic. The army has invested heavily in East Timor. Apart from its economic interests, it lost thousands of men in the war, and is stubbornly intent on controlling East Timor despite talk of troop withdrawals and moves towards a truly civilian administration. While the army remains in East Timor in large numbers, and the army remains a major political force in Indonesia, East Timor will never be granted independence.


East Timor is crying out for tourists to help its economic development and visitors are slowly making their way to Dili. Outside Dili, bus travel can be gruelling and facilities are still limited but the government has opened resthouses in some of the towns. there are no official restrictions on travel anywhere in East Timor. Very few tourists visit East Timor, but those who do rarely experience any problems. Despite East Timor's reputation as one of the world's hot spots, the army controls East Timor. East Timor has experienced long periods of quiet, but it can change, such as in 1997 when a number of incidents accompanied the Indonesian general elections. East Timor is not in the grips of a war, but it is subject to 'disturbances', mostly demonstrations. while Fretlin still has an armed wing, called Falintil, it is estimated to be only around 200 strong. During the 90s, the number of guerilla attacks have been low and mostly directed towards the military.

Foreigners are in no way targeted (though it may be wise to avoid hitching a lift on an army truck), and unless you foolishly join in a demonstration, the chance of coming across any incident is remote. The problem for travellers is not so much the guerrillas is not so much the guerrillas but the army. don't worry, soldiers are not going to shoot tourists, and for the most part you will find the police and the army very friendly. Many are keen to chat with foreigners and practise their English, but there are some overzealous officials who assume all foreigners are journalists or spies, and you may have to answer a few questions as to your intentions. Smile and explain that you are a tourist there to see the sights. Be aware that in sensitive areas after an incident, the army will be out in force and they don't want any foreign observers around. Travel may still be possible, but if you arrive in the wrong place at the wrong time, you can expect a grilling. Stick to the quiet areas.

It pays to know exactly what is happening before travelling outside dili. On three visits to Timor, we have never experienced any problems or met any other tourists who have (not that we have ever met many tourists), but some periods are definitely better than others. Our first visit was on the anniversary of the Santa Cruz massacre, when the army was putting on a show of strength - the land border was closed and you could only fly into dili. Around 12 November is not a good time to visit East Timor. The second visit was after a long period of quiet, and travel was easy. the third was a few months after a guerrilla attack, and while Dili and the west were quiet, travelling around the east was possible, but the sight of a foreigner aroused suspicion and the atmosphere was strained. Some areas are better than others. Losk Palos, Tutuala and Vaqueque are regarded as problem areas. When it is quiet, travel is usually no problem, but road blocks quickly appear in the east after any incident. Baucau is usually OK, but student demonstrations are not unheard of, and also occur in Dili. Maubisse is not a problem, and west of Dili to the border is also usually quiet. Suai is easily visited from Betun in West Timor.

Travelling to Dili is usually very straightforward and easy. When crossing the border from Atambua to Dili on the bus, Indonesians are required to show their identity cards, but the authorities usually don't bother with tourists. Staying in dili is as easy as in any Indonesian city, but if you're staying overnight outside Dili, you should register with the town's police on arrival. This is just a formality. Every town also has an army post, but it is not necessary to report to the army. On the roads, army checkpoints tend to come and go. You may not strike any, but if you do you will have to show your passport. There is often a checkpoint on the main road just before Dili, but this is just a formality. If you strike a lot of army checkpoints and a lot of questions, then you are probably heading into a sensitive area. If questioned, try to get a Surat Laporan (Letter of Report), which will save time if stopped at other posts. For the East Timorese life now goes on much as normal - as much as it can under the watchful eye of the security forces. Indonesian education and culture may have permeated East Timor, but most Timorese don't consider themselves to be Indonesian. Many are resigned to Indonesian rule, but hopes for independence are still high. Although young East Timorese have spent most or all of their lives under Indonesian rule, Timorese youth are at the forefront of anti-Indonesian demonstrations.

Indonesians have migrated to East Timor under transmigrasi schemes, but apart from army personnel and government officials, settlement outside the main towns is limited. although the two communities co-exist, the Timorese are suspicious of Indonesians, and vice versa. Indonesian settlement is resented and many Indonesians are afraid to travel outside Dili. some travellers to East Timor have an activist bent and are intent on delving into politics. If you want to help the East Timorese, enjoy the attractions but avoid politics. Amateur journalists are not appreciated. You only risk getting your hosts into trouble. The authorities tend to be suspicious of you make contact with the East Timorese people. As such, you may find people reserved and unwilling to chat to you, especially in public. In private, they may be more open, but use common sense of discussing politics and always let them make the first move.

Tourists are very rare and you may attract crowds of inquisitive kids in the villages. English is not widely spoken, though you will find the occasional student who knows more than 'hello mister'. You really need a working knowledge of Indonesian or Portuguese to travel outside Dili. Almost everyone speaks at least some Indonesian. Educated older people speak Portuguese, and appreciate it. They may open up more to you in Portuguese, knowing that Indonesians don't speak it. Obrigdodo ('thank you' in Portuguese) will often bring a smile, but use terima kasih with the army. Of the few hotels outside Dili, most are government run. You will be directed to these hotels, though they are often quite sterile and you'll usually only meet Indonesian officials, not Timorese. There are a few simple Timorese-run hotels, and these are often the best places to stay because the staff are very keen to promote tourism and their country. These hotels, because they take foreigners, sometimes run into problems with the authorities and may not have signs out the front, but it pays to seek them out, even though you may be told they no longer exist. Some privately owned Indonesian hotels in Dili refuse to take foreigners. Spellings of placenames is variable, Indonesian spellings may be used, but old Portuguese spellings are still common. the Portuguese 'qu' and 'c' often become 'k', while a soft 'c' becomes 's'.


The first town in East Timor, 4km over the border from West Timor, is Batugede, 111km from Dili. The Portuguese fort has massive walls and a couple of old cannons. Although not occupied by the army, it is locked. there's a police checkpoint where you may have to show your passport, but they don't usually bother with foreigners. The highway to Dili branches off to the left around the corner from the fort, or continue straight ahead to Maliana. From Batugede the twisting, dipping road hugs the cliffs around the coast and eventually drops to the Lois river, 75km from Dili, where a Portuguese-style villa hangs off a rock outcrop overlooking the river. The long bridge that spans the river was only finished in the early 90s, allowing year round access to Dili by this main route.

Maubara, on the coast 49km west of Dili, has a 17th century Portuguese fort and an impressive church. This was the centre of one of the most important old kingdoms in Portuguese Timor, and it was here, in 1893, that a series of revolts took place, eventually leading to the bloody pacification of the island by the Portuguese.

Liquica, 35km west of Dili, is a large, shaded town with some reasonable beaches, mostly with black sand. The town has some fine Portuguese buildings, including the governor's office and the hospital. The eastern edge of town has a lively market. There are regular Dili-Liquica-Maubara return buses for day trips from Dili.

At Aipelo, 29km from Dili, the Bekas Penjara Aipelo is a 15th century Portuguese jail that had been fenced and attempts have been made to turn it into a tourist attraction. Once an impressive building, the walls still stand, but it is in ruins.


Until the coast road was completed, the main road to Dili used to go from Batugede inland through the mountains. From Batugede the road heads up into the hills and Balibo, which has a Portuguese fort. In 1976, five Australian journalists reporting the war were executed by Indonesian soldiers in Balibo, but Indonesia has never admitted responsibility. Bases from Batugede run 40km right through to Maliana at the edge of the Nunura Plains, a fertile flood plain and rice-growing district. The town has a busy market and Portuguese church. Maliana is the capital of the Bobonaro district, home to the Kemak people and their rectangular stilt houses dot the countryside. The war and resettlement has resulted in a loss of tradition in much of East Timor, but the region still produces some fine ikat, mostly with a black background. buses run to Atambua in West Timor, usually via the coast, though there is a backroad across the border to Atambua via Weluli. Leaving Maliana, buses wind their way through the mountains, Bobonaro, 20km east of Maliana, is a hill town with a straggling market where you might find some ikat.

Just east of town is the turn-off to Marobo, 3km along a rough road. Marobo was once a Portuguese hot spring resort and mountain retreat. Although the hotel has gone, there is a large swimming pool fed by the spring in a beautiful setting. Further east in the hills is the market town of Atsabe, and a high waterfall is just outside town. This region also produces ikat. From Atsabe a very rough road runs over the hills to Ermera. Emera 62km south-west of Dili, was the main coffee plantation of Portuguese Timor and is still a major coffee producing area. Coffee brought wealth to the town and good examples of Portuguese architecture can be seen, including the beautiful church. The old part of town is a delight to wander around and Emera is easily reached by bus from Dili. It makes a good day trip.


Dili was once the capital of Portuguese Timor. Although it had been a popular stop on the Asian trail, it was off-limits from 1975 to 1989 and only now are visitors starting to trickle in again. Dili is a pleasant, lazy city - the most attractive in Nusa Tenggara. Centred around a sweeping harbour, with parkland edging the waterfront on either side, it still has the feel of a tropical Portuguese outpost. A number of Portuguese buildings survive, you can sample Portuguese food and wine, and everything closes down for the afternoon siesta from noon until 4.30 pm. the dry season is really dry in the part of Timor, but it makes for some spectacular scenery, with rocky, brown hills dropping right into a turquoise sea lined with exotic tropical plants. to top it off, dili has some beautiful sunsets over the harbour.

Tourist Office The tourist office, Dinas Pariwisata, is on JI Kaikoli. Mr Da Silva speaks good English, and the office has some good brochures and maps.

Money The Bank Danamon on JI Avenida Sada Bandeira is the best place to change money, but accepts only US or Australian dollar travellers cheques. It will change cash in other currencies. The Bank Dagang Negara, next to the New Resende Inn, also changes money, with the same restrictions.

Portuguese Dili
Dili was never a jewel in the crown of the Portuguese colonial empire, and it lacks lavish public buildings. When the English scientist Alfred Russel Wallace spent several months here in 1861, he noted Dili as:

Despite Wallaces' unflattering assessment, Dili has plenty of reminders of colonial rule, most of it dating from the 20th century. Many Portuguese buildings remain, especially along the waterfront, which was once the preserve of colonial officials and the well-to-do. Most of the buildings are now inhabited by the armed forces, which commandeered them after the takeover. As such, entry is prohibited and photography is generally a no-no. You can take a pleasant stroll which includes most of the sights, preferably in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the heat of the day.

Starting at the east of the harbour, the old Chinese Chamber of Commerce is a delightful Portuguese villa. Dili once had a large Chinese population, and Chinese merchants conducted much of the city's trade, although many fled in 1975. The building has high arches and pillars, decorated in hues of pink and crimson. the scalloped roof tiles around the eaves are typical of Dili's Portuguese architecture. the building served as the Taiwanese consulate before the Indonesian takeover and is now the naval headquarters. Underneath the Indonesian crest the original Portuguese lettering has been painted over, but is still visible. Further along is the old Garrison, dating from 1627, with massive, thick walls and heavy, wooden-shuttered windows. Portuguese cannons grace the front of the building on JI Dr Antonio de Corvalho. It now serves as the garrison for the Indonesian army.

The most imposing building in Dili is the Governor's Office. It dates from 1980 and, although the modern lines are plain, it is built in early colonial style with wide, arched verandahs. In front is the Monument of Henry the Navigator, also erected in 1960 to commemorate the Portuguese presence in Asia and Henrique's role in opening up the sea lanes some 500 years earlier. It is one of the few memorials to the Portuguese presence still standing in Dili. On JI Formosa, a block across from the Governor's Office, is the solid, neoclassical Liceu Dr Francisco Machado, a former school and now government offices. On the opposite corner are the old godowns (warehouses) and officers of the former Sociedale Agricola Patria e Trabacho (SAPT). Similar godowns can be seen around town. Back on the waterfront is the integration Monument, a memorial to Indonesian rule. A Timorese in traditional costume breaks the chains of colonialism, in much the same tacky style as the Free Irian monument (the 'Howzat' man) in Jakarta. Across from the monument is the Rumah Adat Los Palos, a traditional house from the Los Palos region that has been taken as the symbol of East Timorese architecture.

Roti & Sabu

The small islands of Roti (or Rote) and Sabu (also spelled Sawu or Savu), between Timor and Sumba, are little visited, however, their successful economics based on the lontar palm, have played a significant role in Nusa Tenggara's history and development, and now preserve some interesting cultures. Roti, in particular, has a few beautiful coastal villages and some of the best surf in Nusa Tenggara.


Off the wst end of Timor, Roti is the southernmost island of Indonesia. Traditionally, Roti was adivided into 18 domains, each headed by a raja and each with its own distrinct dialect. The lightly bulk Rotinese have migrated to many parts of West Timor. Bahasa Indonesia is almost universally understoon on the island. In 1681 a bloody Dutch invasion placed their local timorese allies in control of the island, and roti became the source of slavs and supplies for the dutch base at Kupang. In the 18th century, the Rotinese began taking advantage of the Dutch presence, gradually adopting Christianity and, with Dutch supoort, establishing a school system which eventually turned them into the region's elite. The Rotinese openness to change is the main reason their old culture is no longer as strong as Sabu's, although there are still pockets of animism. In the villages, a layer of old beliefs lingers behind Protestantism. At some festivals, families still cut chunks from a live buffalo and take them away to eat. Ikat weaving on Roti today uses mainly red, black and yellow chemical dyes, but the designs can still be complex; floral and patola (traditional geometric ikat design) motifs are typical. One tradition that hasn't disappeared is the wearing of the wide-brimmed lontar hat, ti'i langga, which has a curious spike sticking up near the front like a unicorn's horn (perhaps representing a lontar palm or a Porguquest helmet or mast). Rotinese also love music and dancing; the traditional Rotinese 20 stringed instrument, the sasando, features on the 5000 rp note.

Pantai Baru
Pantai Baru is a large ferry terminal out in the middle of nowhere. Apart from a string of warungs that sell snacks for departing passengers, there is nothing at Pantai Baru. Buses meet the ferry to whisk you around the island. After 15 minutes the place is deserted, so don't linger.
Roti's main town is Baa, on the north coast. The main street, JI Pabean, is close to the ocean and some houses have boat-shaped thatched roofs with carvings (connected with traditional ancestor cults) at various points. the coast from Pantai Baru to Bas is very lightly populated and has some superb coral beaches. there is an excellent, deserted beach just 3km from Baa. Baa's market day is Saturday, when stalls line the area around the central town square. Otherwise Baa has little to offer and most travellers pass straight through on their way to Nemberala. The Bank Rakyat Indonesia in Baa does not change money.


Midway between Roti and Samba, but with closer linguistic links to Sumba, the low, bare island of Sabu (also spelled Sawu) is still a stronghold of animistic beliefs collectively known as jingitu. These persist, even though Portuguese missionaries first arrived before 1600 and their work was continued by the Dutch. Sabu's population (about 60,000 people) is divided into five traditional domains; the main settlement, Seba (on the north-west coast) was the centre of the leading domain in Dutch times. Sabunese society is divided into clans, named after their male founders, but it is also divided in half - into the 'noble' and 'common' halves, which are determined by the mother's lineage. The halves are called hubi ae (greater flower stalk) and hubi iki (lesser flower stalk). Sabunese women have a thriving ikat-weaving tradition. Their cloth typically has stripes of black or dark blue interspersed with stripes decorated with floral motifs, clan or hubi emblems.

A group of stones near Namata is a ritual site: animal sacrifices, followed by the whole communi8ty sharing the meat, take place around August to October. Another festival in the second quarter of the year sees a boat pushed out to sea as an offering. There are three places to stay on Sabu: Ongka Da'i Homestay, Makarim Homestay and Perykuswan Homestay, each costing around 12,000 rp, including meals. Seba has a market, and a handful of trucks provides the island's transport, although you can hire a motorcycle for 15,000 rp per day.

Getting there & Away
Boat Ferries leave Kupang's Bolok harbour for Sabu on Tuesday and Wednesday (14,000 rp, nine hours), and continue on to Waingapu or Samba. From Sabu, ferries to Kupang leave on Tuesday and Wednesday. Ferries from Wangapu to Sabu leave on Monday and Saturday, and in the reverse direction on Sunday and Thursday. Pelni passenger ships also call in at Sabu. the Pungrango sails Kupang-Roti-Sabu-Ende and back every two weeks.


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