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
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
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
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
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.