Three Centuries of Conflict in East Timor

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By Douglas Kammen

Why does violence recur in some places, over long periods of time?  Douglas Kammen explores this pattern in Three Centuries of Conflict in East Timor, studying that island’s tragic past, focusing on the small district of Maubara. 

Once a small but powerful kingdom embedded in long-distance networks of trade, over the course of three centuries the people of Maubara experienced benevolent but precarious Dutch suzerainty, Portuguese colonialism punctuated by multiple uprisings and destructive campaigns of pacification, Japanese military rule, and years of brutal Indonesian occupation. In 1999 Maubara was the site of particularly severe violence before and after the UN-sponsored referendum that finally led to the restoration of East Timor’s independence. 

The questions posed in Three Centuries of Conflict in East Timor about recurring violence and local narratives apply to many other places besides East Timor—from the Caucasus to central Africa, and from the Balkans to China—wherever mass violence keeps recurring.

“Far too late, the savagery of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor finally reached public awareness, leading to Indonesian withdrawal after a final paroxysm of terror. There has by now been serious scholarly study of this terrible period. Douglas Kammen’s microhistorical reconstruction of the last few centuries in one important region, and his firsthand analysis of recent crimes and their aftermath, deepens these inquiries considerably. It reveals intriguing layers of complexity both of the actual historical events and of the ways they are refracted within cultural memory and interpretation, shaping actions and their motives in intricate ways. The conclusions about East Timor, and the overall approach, generalize quite broadly to the study of mass violence.  An illuminating study.” — Noam Chomsky

"Douglas Kammen's study represents an invaluable contribution to scholarship on the history of East Timor." - Anthony Soares

"Exacting in the details, Kammen has succeeded in writing a compelling and evocative narrative." - Peter Gordon


Douglas Kammen is assistant professor at the National University of Singapore. He is co-editor of The Contours of Mass Violence in Indonesia, 1965-1968.

Publication Year: 2015
248 pages, 229mm x 152mm 
ISBN: 978-9971-69-875-1

NUS Press