Lesser Sunda Islands History

The East Nusa Tenggara archipelago is believed to have been the center of industrial trade and exchange two thousand years ago. This was when the island of Timor functioned as the source for the original stock of sandalwood trees established in India (or possibly China) and thereafter developed as an important commercial tree.

The trees grow on some of the islands, mostly on Timor Island and previously in Sumba, and the quality is still judged superlative. The product is not only used for handicrafts, but is also manufactured into the raw material of perfumes, sandalwood oil, which is an important export commodity. For centuries, ships from all over the world have visited these islands in search of spices and sandalwood.

The ancient Chinese travel chronicle Hsing Cha Sheng Can mentions that from the 6th to the 9th AD many ships from the Chinese mainland came here to barter with their merchandise of ceramics, yarns and silks, in exchange for sandalwood.

Can Yu Kua wrote in the Chu Fan Shih, in 1225, that Timor Island had links with Java as far as the trade of Sandalwood was concerned. Evidence of these old trade links with Java is to be found in the Dance of Ledo Maja, in Sabu. Evidence of early trading with China is provided by the antique Chinese ceramics that are to be found in this area.

Merchants from India also come to these islands to buy sandalwood. They brought with them horses that they had purchased in Arabia and sold them to the people of Sumba. That is ostensibly the reason why there are so many horses in Sumba. The Europeans came to East Nusa Tenggara and purchased sandalwood oil for treating wounds.

In 1520, a Portuguese flotilla led by Alfonso de Abreu and Serrao, sailed to Ternate, intending to defeat the Sultan of Ternate and take over his sphere of influence, which stretched from the southern Philippines to Sangihe Talaud, Maluku and the Solor island. Losing their orientation, they arrived at Solor. They had failed to find their destination, but had discovered East Nusa Tenggara, the source of sandalwood.

They set up a trading post in Lamakera, on Solor Island, as a transit harbor between Maluku and Malacca. In 1566, the Portuguese set up a trading post, know as Fort Hendricus, where sandalwood was accumulated. During the Portuguese period, many names were changed. Nusa Nipa became Flores, and Tanah Wutun, or Tanjung, was renamed Cabo da Flores.

Nusa Wuo was changed into Sumba, and Nusa Eda into Rote or Roti, which was presumably the result of a misunderstanding involving the name Rote. Nusa Timu became Timor.

In addition, the Portuguese did their best to convert the people to Roman Catholicism. By 1597, thousands of people on these islands had been converted to Christianity.

The little town of Kupang is known among students of maritime history. Around the end of the 18th, century, Kupang was visited by a sloop of the British Ship HMS bounty skippered by Captain Bligh, who had braved the Pacific Ocean after the infamous mutiny. On his arrival at Kupang Captain Bligh received the help of the Dutch who provided him with a ship to return to England.

In 1592, an inhabitant of Larantuka, of Portuguese origin, whose mother had been ill treated, asked the Dutch for help to fight the Portuguese. The dutch attacked Fort Hendricus and defeated the Portuguese. The Dutch arrived at East Nusa Tenggara for the first time in the 1 7th century. In 1613, Apollonius Scotte led a war expedition to East Nusa Tenggara to fight the Portuguese.

War broke out and Soler fell to the Dutch in 1653. Through further victory, the Dutch consolidated their position in Kupang in 1657. Fort Hendricus became the headquarters of Dutch East India Company. Like the Portuguese before them, the Dutch brought their own Lutheran Ministers to the island.

After this the people living in the surroundings of Kupang converted from Catholicism to Protestantism and the Protestant center was moved to Kupang. Meanwhile, the Portuguese moved the seat of their authority to Rote and Sawu islands. Meanwhile, many of the other islands were being subjugated and put under Portuguese control.

In the months of May and June 1642, the Portuguese were sending their best troops from Larantuka to attack Timor Island. In 1739 a new power group, called the black Portuguese or Tropaas, emerged in Timor.

The situation continued until 1854, when the treaty of Timor was signed between the Dutch and Portuguese, dividing Timor into half with the west to be ruled by the Dutch, and the east by the Portuguese. Larantuka and surrounding areas were ceded to the Dutch whereas the barren territory of Oekusi was relinquished to the Portuguese.

After Indonesian independence, the area became part of the Provinces of the Lesser Sunda Islands, and changed its name to the Province of Nusa Tenggara with the capital in Singaraja, Bali. In 1958 the province of Nusa Tenggara was divided into three provinces; the Provinces of Bali, West Nusa Tenggara, and East Nusa Tenggara.


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