Divide and Cultivate: Plantations, Militarism and Environment in Portuguese Timor, 1860-1975

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    By the time Portuguese colonialism in East Timor drew to a close in 1974 and 1975, it was estimated that 90 percent of the half-island’s vegetation had been modified by man. About the Baucau and Viqueque regions, ‘it is hard to recognise the distribution of natural vegetation today’, wrote German geographer Joachim Metzner after a period of fieldwork in 1969 and 1970. Indeed, forest degradation lies at the heart of human modification of the environment in East Timor and deforestation was set to increase dramatically over the next quarter century under Indonesian control (1975– 1999) at an estimated rate of 1 percent per year. In this chapter we explore the relationship between the environment and the plantation as it developed under Portuguese colonial rule from 1860 until the eve of the Indonesian invasion in 1975. We focus in particular on the period from 1890 to 1940 when various crops— in particular coffee and coconut— were imposed on the indigenous population across the whole territory in the interests of economic profit. We argue that plantation cultivation was pursued at the expense of the natural environment, indigenous sovereignty, and local agrocultural forms that worked to regulate land use and distribute benefits.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationComparing Apples, Oranges, and Cotton: Environmental Histories of the Global Plantation
    Editors Frank Uekotter
    Place of PublicationFrankfurt-on-Main, Germany
    PublisherCampus Verlag GmbH
    ISBN (Print)9783593500287
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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