Constructing East Timor: History, Identity, and Place, 1850-1999


Kisho Tsuchiya

PhD defended at: 

National University of Singapore


This dissertation is a spatial, ethnographic, and historical analysis of identity formation in Timor Island from the mid-nineteenth century to contemporary time. This study creates a genealogy of diverse ways communities expressed Timorese belonging and affiliation to particular contexts, environment, and spaces through an analysis of 19th to 20th century sources in Portuguese, English, French, Japanese, Tetun, and Indonesian languages. Key contributions to Timor Studies follow three main trajectories: the first demonstrates how post-1974 construction of East Timor as in international human rights campaign shaped the way in which political identity and resistance was understood by scholars, media, transnational activists, aid workers, East Timorese and the Indonesian government. The second thread takes readers deeper into the past to demonstrate how various notions of Timorese identity were actually much more malleable and fluid, drawing from Southeast Asian anthropology, history, and culture that would later be distilled by international commentators in the late 1970s. Thirdly, it alerts readers to the political role of place-making in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific by showing how different communities socially constructed different understandings of Timor to reflect the meanings, values, and worldviews that most suited them.