Companion to East Timor - The Head Tax

The Head Tax

The head tax was imposed because the landowning class back in Portugal wanted to accelerate the extraction of raw materials and cash crops in its colonies. This landowning class had held on to its power as late as the end of the nineteenth century by resisting the development of a manufacturing sector. But with rapid industrial developments in the rest of Western Europe, Portugal wanted to increase its competitiveness. It did so by imposing a system of forced labour in order to compel the Timorese to produce export crops such as coffee and copra, and to build roads to transport these crops to the ports.

For many years prior to the head tax, Portugal's actual control of East Timor did not extend beyond the small outposts of Dili, Manatuto and similar posts on the north coast.