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Timor is an island in South East Asia. Geologically considered a continental crustal fragment, it lies alongside the Sunda shelf, and is the largest in a cluster of islands between Java and New Guinea. European colonialism has shaped Timorese history since 1515 a period when it was divided between the Dutch in the west of the island (now Indonesian West Timor), and the Portuguese in the east (now the independent state of East Timor).
The island of Timor was populated as part of the human migrations that have shaped Australasia more generally. It is believed that survivors from three waves of migration still live in the country. The first is described by anthropologists as Vedda people who arrived from the north and west at least 42,000 years ago. In 2011 evidence was uncovered, at the Jerimalai cave site, showing that these early settlers had high-level maritime skills at this time, and by implication the technology needed to make ocean crossings to reach Australia and other islands, as they were catching and consuming large numbers of big deep sea fish such as tuna. This is the earliest evidence of advanced deep sea fishing technology found anywhere in the world. These excavations also discovered world’s earliest recorded fish hook from a later time at 11,000 years old.
Around 3000 BC, a second migration brought Melanesians. The earlier Vedda peoples withdrew at this time to the mountainous interior. Finally, proto-Malays arrived from south China and north Indochina. Hakka traders are among those descended from this final group. Timorese origin myths tell of ancestors that sailed around the eastern end of Timor arriving on land in the south. Some stories recount Timorese ancestors journeying from Malay Peninsula or the Minangkabau Highlands of Sumatra.
The Timorese in their region
The later Timorese were not seafarers, rather they were land focused peoples who did not make contact with other islands and peoples by sea. Timor was part of a region of small islands with small populations of similarly land-focused peoples that now make up eastern Indonesia. Contact with the outside world was via networks of foreign seafaring traders from as far as China and India that served the archipelago. Outside products brought to the region included metal goods, rice, fine textiles, and coins exchanged for local spices, sandalwood, deer horn, bees' wax, and slaves.
Nagarakretagama, the chronicles of the Majapahit empire called Timor a tributary, but as Portuguese chronologist Tomé Pires wrote in the 16th century, all islands east of Java were called "Timor". Indonesian nationalist used the Majapahit chronicles to claim East Timor as part of Indonesia. Early European explorers report that the island had a number of small chiefdoms or princedoms in the early 16th century. One of the most significant is the Wehali or Wehale kingdom in central Timor, to which the Tetum, Bunak and Kemak ethnic groups were aligned.
Beginning in the early sixteenth century, European colonialists—the Dutch in the island's west, and Portuguese in the east—would divide the island, isolating the East Timorese from the histories of the surrounding archipelago.
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- Population Settlements in East Timor and Indonesia Archived 2 February 1999 at the Wayback Machine. – University of Coimbra
- History of Timor – Technical University Lisbon (PDF-Datei; 805 kB)
- Precolonial East Timor.