Companion to East Timor - Rebellions


The best-known rebellion was led by an East Timorese liurai (king) named Dom Boaventura in the reino (territory) of Manufahi on the south coast. The Manufahi war united Boaventura's forces with those of many other reinos. The Portuguese had to bring in colonial troops from Goa, Mozambique and Macau to crush the rebellion, which began in 1910 and ended in August 1912 with the defeat of Boaventura and his allies.

Ideological factors played a role in containing or preventing rebellions. For example, the Mambai, who were one of East Timor's largest ethno-linguistic groups, appear to have accepted the bizarre notion that the Portuguese were not colonizers but rather their younger brothers. According to this myth, the Mambai and the Portuguese had both been born on the sacred mountain of origins located at the centre of the island. Heaven had instructed the Portuguese younger brothers to rule over the political realm and given them the sacred flag and marching drum, the insignia of temporal sovereignty. But Heaven had instructed the Timorese to rule over the spiritual realm and given them the sacred rock and sacred tree, which were the insignia of spiritual authority. The Portuguese had departed overseas, taking with them the symbols of their political legitimacy, while the Timorese had stayed on the island and remained in charge of the spiritual realm.

The Timorese had then crossed the oceans to request their younger Portuguese brothers to return to their original homeland in Timor, to bring back the symbols of their political legitimacy, and to assume once again their rule of the political realm. The Portuguese had agreed and had returned to Timor, where they had once again assumed responsibility for administrative matters, while the Timorese had retained their spiritual role of maintaining cosmological balance.

This claptrap, which greatly benefitted the Portuguese colonial presence, meant that many Timorese groups such as the Mambai had reconciled themselves to Portuguese colonialism in East Timor. Today, however, it is Dom Boaventura and his courage that are revered by many East Timorese.