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Timor-Leste Studies
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Publications on Timor-Leste

This is a selection of books available on Timor-Leste. Please send your recommendations to the TLSA website by email:

In Women’s Words
Violence and Everyday Life during the Indonesian Occupation of East Timor, 1975–1999

Sussex Academic Press

Drawing on oral history interviews, this study presents a woman-centred history of the Indonesian occupation. It reveals the pervasiveness of violence – as well as its gendered and gendering dynamics – within the social and cultural “everyday” of life in occupied East Timor.

The violence experienced by East Timorese women ranged from torture, rape, and interrogation, to various forms of surveillance and social control, and the structural imposition of particular feminine ideals upon their lives and bodies. Through women, East Timorese familial culture was also targeted via programmes to “develop” and “modernise” the territory by transforming the feminine and the domestic sphere. Women experienced the occupation differently to men, not just because they were vulnerable to sexual violence, but also because they endured proxy violence as the military’s means of targeting male relatives and the resistance at large.

In Women’s Words tells a story of survival and perseverance by highlighting the strength, initiative, and negotiating skills of East Timorese women. Many women lived in circumstances of constant negotiation and attempts to maintain order and normality, as well as to provide for themselves and their families, in a society where everyday life was characterised by violence and uncertainty. This study demonstrates the capacity of people to survive, to endure, and to resist, even amid the most difficult of circumstances. It provides insights into the social and cultural elements of territorial control, as well as the locally-grounded strategies that are often used for negotiating and resisting an occupying power.

National-Building and National Identity in Timor Leste by Michael Leach

Routledge: Oxford, New York

Timor-Leste’s long journey to nationhood spans 450 years of colonial rule by Portugal, a short-lived independence in 1975, and a 24-year occupation by Indonesia. This book examines the history of nation-building and national identity in Timor-Leste, and the evolution of a collective identity through two consecutive colonial occupations, and into the post-independence era. It charts the evolution of the idea of an East Timorese nation: its origins, its sources, and its competitors in traditional understandings of political community, and the distinct colonial visions imposed by Portugal or Indonesia. The author analyses the evolution of ideas of collective identity under the long era of Portuguese colonial rule, and through the 24-year struggle for independence from Indonesia from 1975 to 1999. Reflecting the contested history of the territory, these include successive attempts to define its members as colonial subjects in a wider ‘pluri-racial’ Portuguese empire, as citizens in an ‘integrated’ province of the Republic of Indonesia – and, of course, as a nation that demanded its right to self-determination. Finally, the host of nation-building tensions and fault lines that emerged after the restoration of independence in 2002 are discussed.

Examining the history of debates and conflict over national identity, national history, cultural heritage, language policy, and relationships between distinct regions, generations, and language groups, this book will be of interest to academics in the fields of Asian studies, nationalism studies, and international and community development.

Momentum and the East Timor Independence Movement: The Origins of America’s Debate on East Timor bu Shane GUnderson

Lexington Books

Shane Gunderson examines the campaigns by people in the United States on behalf of those seeking peace for East Timor. The diplomatic work of voluntary advisors and supporters living in the United States in the early years of the movement have not been thoroughly explored until now. Through in-depth interviews with twenty activists and intellectuals involved in the East Timor movement from 1975-1999 and qualitative data analysis on information obtained from these interviews, this book explores “momentum” and “turning points” as perceptions in the minds of individual movement actors. The author takes readers through a combination of historical events that shaped social movement actors' attitudes and started a social movement momentum sequence in 1995. The East Timor All Inclusive Dialogue, the Timorization of Indonesia, the public outcries, organizational evolution, and a number of other turning points in the movement represented a series of successes that led to East Timor's independence.

Becoming Landowners: Entanglements of Custom and Modernity in Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste by Victoria C. Stead

University of Haiwai’i Press

Employing a multi-sited ethnographic approach, Becoming Landowners explores these transformations to land and life as they unfold across two Melanesian countries. The chapters move between coasts and inland mountain ranges, between urban centers and rural villages, telling the stories of people and places who are always situated and particular but who also share powerful commonalities of experience. These stories include: a subsistence-based community shaped by the legacies of colonialism and occupation in remote Timor-Leste; villagers in Papua New Guinea resisting a mining operation and the government agents supporting it; an urban East Timorese settlement resisting eviction by the nation-state its residents hoped would represent them in the postindependence era; and people and groups in both countries who are struggling for, with, and sometimes against formal codification of their claims to land and place. In each of these places customary and modern forms of connection to land are being propelled into complex and dynamic configurations, theorized here in an innovative way as entanglements of custom and modernity.

Moving between multiple sites, scales, and forms of collectivity, Becoming Landownersreveals entanglements as spaces of deep ambivalence, where structures of power are destabilized in ways that can lend themselves to the diminishing of local autonomy, but which also create new possibilities for reasserting that autonomy.

History of Timor-Leste by Frédéric Durand, Silkworm Books, ISBN 9786162151248

The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, a former Portuguese colony occupied by Indonesia from 1975 to 1999, became in 2002 the first new sovereign state of the twenty-first century. Its modern nationhood belies its ancient history. Archaeological data found on the island can be traced back at least 42,000 years, beyond most ancient European artifacts. The book provides a readable overview of the history of the country from the first traces of human habitation through Timor-Leste’s hard-won independence in May 2002.

Structured chronologically, the account begins with the earliest legends and moves quickly and concisely through the defining events that created and shaped the modern nation of Timor-Leste. The text is richly illustrated with over two hundred maps, engravings, and photographs. A detailed historical time line follows the text.

Women and the Politics of Gender in Post-Conflict Timor-Leste:
Between Heaven and Earth, edited by Sara Niner, Routledge, ISBN

Click here to view publisher's book page

This book presents a wide-ranging overview of the position of women in Timor-Leste, 15 years after the country secured its independence. It considers the role of women in Timor-Leste’s history, explores their role in the present day economy and politics, and discusses their contribution to culture and society. The contested meaning of gender itself is investigated in the contemporary culture of this new society. It applies a wide range of different feminist theories and approaches, and concludes with a discussion of what new directions gender studies in Timor-Leste might take.

"A Childhood Fighting for East Timor" by Naldo Rei.

University of Queensland Press, ISBN 9780702236327. AU$34.95

An unforgettable story of courage and survival.vI am by myself, a little boy squatting outside the cave where we are in hiding, looking up at the surrounding hama trees, their roots fiercely grabbing the earth, their trunks as solid as the ancestors … East Timor has become a land of martyrs and warriors, growing like hama trees in the soil of resistance, and the stones and earth are the shoulders on which we stand. I am proud of those who give their lives for our land and people, and fight to defend our rights. Can I become like them, I ask myself, and follow in their footsteps?

Naldo Rei was just six months old when Indonesia invaded East Timor in December 1975. He spent the first three years of his life in the jungle, where his family had fled for safety. After his father was murdered for his work in the resistance movement, nine-year-old Naldo was recruited by the clandestine Fretilin network and began his own extraordinary journey fighting for East Timor’s freedom. Throughout his teenage years, Naldo was imprisoned and tortured regularly for his covert resistance to the brutal Indonesian regime. Eventually, in too much danger to remain in his homeland, he escaped to Australia for several years. Now living in an independent East Timor, Naldo Rei can tell his incredible story. His life is proof that no amount of danger and loss can crush the human spirit.


"East Timor: Beyond Independence" Edited by Damien Kingsbury and Michael Leach, Monash University Press,

ISBN 978 1 876924 49 2

rrp AU$36.95 Paperback, 320pp, page size C5 229 x 162mm

This is the most comprehensive study of East Timor since independence, examining the major themes of development, borders and security, politics and justice, resource and land management, education, and language policy. Though the country was initially lauded as a case study in successful state-building, the crisis of 2006 demonstrated that East Timor had more in common with other post-colonial, post-conflict societies than some of these earlier optimistic assessments suggested.
East Timor continues to attract the interest and attention of governments, scholars, development institutions and aid workers as a society rebuilding itself after almost a quarter of a century of profound trauma, and consecutive eras of colonialism. Covering the era from the independence referendum in August 1999 to the political crisis in 2006, and future prospects and challenges, this book is an invaluable resource for understanding the challenges facing the first new nation of the 21st century.  

"EAST TIMOR: A Country at the Crossroads of Asia and the Pacific
A Geo-historical Atlas" by Frederic Durand. (Silkworm Books, 2006)

ISBN-13: 978-974-9575-98-7; ISBN-10: 974-9575-98-9

198pp, 290x210mm, full-color maps throughout

This atlas highlights the specific features and characteristics of the new country of East Timor. Using statistical documentary resources available since the colonial period, its 136 colorful maps show how material constraints and local, regional, and world stakes have shaped Timor's destiny, both past and present.
Frederic Durand teaches geography at Toulouse Il-Le Mirail University, France. Author of several works on Southeast Asia, the Malay world, and Indonesia, he published the French version of this geo-historical atlas of East Timor in 2002, and the book, Catholicisme et Protestantisme dans lle de Timor: 1556-2003, in 2004.

This wonderful book (in addition to many other in and out of print Timor-Leste titles) can be purchased or ordered from the Asia Bookroom in Canberra for $72.95
"New Nation: United Nations Peace-Building in East Timor" by Geoffrey C. Gunn and Reyko Huang. (Macau, 2006) ISBN 9993770612

The first comprehensive study of United Nations peacebuilding in East Timor from May 1999 to the end of the UNMISET mission in 2006. Drawing upon direct involvement in key institutional sectors through various phases of the UN institutional process, the authors bring to bear on the subject a multidisciplinary approach drawing upopn anthropology, sociology, political science and international relations theory.

Now available from Gleebooks (Sydney), AETA (Melbourne and Sydney), ETAN (US), Select Books (Singapore), Livraria Portuguesa (Macau, China) and


"Timor-Leste: Land of Discovery" is a beautiful book that showcases photographs by Daniel J.Groshong (as featured on this website), a testament to the beauty of the land and the people of the nation of Timor-Leste. "Timor-Leste: Land of Discovery" can be purchased via the Tayo Photogroup website.
"East Timor: Development Challenges for the World's Newest Nation" edited by Hal Hill and Joao Saldanha, published by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, (Singapore) - ISBN 978-981-230-141-3, US$36.90 hard cover.

Enquiries and comments about the Timor-Leste Studies Association may be directed to Michael Leach
This website was designed by Jenny Drysdale and Susana Barnes -- Photos on this website are by Dan Groshong

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