No honest means in Dili


I was surprised to find, a couple of years ago, that the Portuguese administration of Timor struggled with urban unemployment long before I had imagined. The question of how to keep Dili safe from “indigenous who had no honest means of subsistence” arises in the Boletim Oficial de Timor in 1938.

An ‘edital’ from that year reveals that many Timorese were coming to the city in hope of finding work, and unable to places, according to the Administration, they were “induced to the practice of robbery.”

To that end, the Administrator of Dili prohibited Timorese from outside of Dili to take up positions without prior knowledge of the government. Instead it tried to require employers of Timorese labor from outside of Dili to procure this labor through the administration. Salaries were also to be paid via the Portuguese administration.


Whether this actually occurred in practice is unclear, but it shows that the Portuguese colonial administration made early attempts at controlling movement and the salaried economy well before Dili was as large as it is today.

I know the Indonesian administration tried to control movement in and out of Dili, often to no avail. It would be interesting to look at issues of migration and urbanization in Dili, starting before World War II and continue to the present, putting the hyped “gang violence” issue into greater perspective.


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