Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Timor (COUPANG, 1857-1869. DELLI, 1861) in The Malay Archipelago (1869) by Alfred Russel Wallace.
(COUPANG, 1857-1869. DELLI, 1861)
THE island of Timor is about three hundred miles long and sixty wide, and seems to form the termination of the great range of volcanic islands which begins with Sumatra more than two thousand miles to the west. It differs however very remarkably from all the other islands of the chain in not possessing any active volcanoes, with the one exception of Timor Peak near the centre of the island, which was formerly active, but was blown up during an eruption in 1638 and has since been quiescent. In no other part of Timor do there appear to be any recent igneous rocks, so that it can hardly be classed as a volcanic island. Indeed its position is just outside of the great volcanic belt, which extends from Flores through Ombay and Wetter to Banda.
I first visited Timor in 1857, staying a day at Coupang, the chief Dutch town at the west end of the island; and again in May 1859, when I stayed a fortnight in the same neighbourhood. In the spring of 1861 I spent four months at Delli, the capital of the Portuguese possessions in the eastern part of the island.
The whole neighbourhood of Coupang appears to have been elevated at a recent epoch, consisting of a rugged surface of coral rock, which rises in a vertical wall between the beach and the town, whose low, white, red-tiled houses give it an appearance very similar to other Dutch settlements in the East. The vegetation is everywhere scanty and scrubby. Plants of the families Apocynaceae and Euphorbiacea, abound; but there is nothing that can be called a forest, and the whole country has a parched and desolate appearance, contrasting strongly with the lofty forest trees and perennial verdure of the Moluccas or of Singapore. The most conspicuous feature of the vegetation was the abundance of fine fanleaved palms (Borassus flabelliformis), from the leaves of which are constructed the strong and durable water-buckets in general use, and which are much superior to those formed from any other species of palm. From the same tree, palm-wine and sugar are made, and the common thatch for houses formed of the leaves lasts six or seven years without removal. Close to the town I noticed the foundation of a ruined house below high-water mark, indicating recent subsidence. Earthquakes are not severe here, and are so infrequent and harmless that the chief houses are built of stone.
The inhabitants of Coupang consist of Malays, Chinese, and Dutch, besides the natives, so that there are many strange and complicated mixtures among the population. There is one resident English merchant, and whalers as well as Australian ships often come here for stores and water. The native Timorese preponderate, and a very little examination serves to show that they have nothing in common with Malays, but are much more closely allied to the true Papuans of the Aru Islands and New Guinea. They are tall, have pronounced features, large somewhat aquiline noses, and frizzly hair, and are generally of a dusky brown colour. The way in which the women talk to each other and to the men, their loud voices and laughter, and general character of self- assertion, would enable an experienced observer to decide, even without seeing them, that they were not Malays.
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