Portuguese Timor and Second World War: conflicting narratives on common heritage

Andrea Fahey

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    During the Second World War the country now known as Timor-Leste was dominated by the Portuguese colonial system. Lisbon decided to remain neutral during the conflict, along with its dependent territories. Nevertheless, due to its strategic location and oil resources and combined with what was perceived as a weak local government, Portuguese Timor was held by two different powers: the allied forces who arrived in the colony in December 1941 and the Japanese forces who occupied the island from February 1942 until 1945, thus becoming a war stage. Allied forces constantly bombarded Dili, the capital of Portuguese Timor; likewise, the local populations that opposed the Japanese occupation and fought with the allied forces were punished severely if discovered. The human losses left a mental and economic wound on the Timorese population that would last for many years. There are several and sometimes conflicting narratives about this period due to the involvement of different ethnic groups and countries. Most of the narratives have a foreign perspective of Portuguese Timor (such is the case of Australian accounts); others were written under a dictatorial system that could have compromised its accuracy (as was the case of Portugal). There is a small number of oral-history interviews from local Timorese witnesses. In order to portray a comprehensive view of this time in Timor, this paper considers examples of secondary sources that represent these three perspectives. This is a historical review that will demonstrate how these perspectives offer conflicting narratives and why. Keywords: Second World War, Portuguese Timor, Timorese stories, Australian accounts, Portuguese descriptions.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)29-42pp
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


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