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Capo Das Flores - A Voyage to Seek Out Luso-Asian Cousins in the Indonesian Archipelago

Transcript of a speech by Professor Cliff Pereira FRGS, Club Lusitano, 20 July 2021

The Cape of Flowers. A linguistic trail.

My first encounter with the Cape of Flowers was in 2007 with one of those hybrid maps which holds its own cartographic tale of intrigue between the powers of Europe. “Capo de Flores” - I was struck by the name “Flores” which of course is Iberian in origin. Indeed, all of the peoples represented by these languages and many more, have had a hand in this story of political intrigue, conquest, war, slavery, refugees and changing economic fortunes.


Perhaps I should say a little about why I am attracted to narratives of the Portuguese Empire. I was born in the shadow of the Portuguese Fort Jesus in Mombasa, Kenya into a community that hailed from Goa in former Portuguese India. Much of my work has been on the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean World. But this challenge has been multi-disciplinary and focused on unheard voices. It has looked at Luso-Asians in Britain, Canada, Portugal, Brazil and Macaronesia in the Atlantic world. Considering, for example, technology transfer among enslaved Africans to the Cape Verde Islands. Since moving to Hong Kong in 2016, my focus has shifted to Luso-Africans in Southeast and East Asia. There was one area in this region that I had heard about only in vague mentions. The references where to “The Flores Islands” where the Portuguese once had a colony. My quest through archives and on this field-trip was to find out more about this region and its “Patrimônio Portuguesa” or Portuguese heritage.


This is the church of Saint Francis in Cochin, built in 1503, Vasco da Gama’s body was initially buried in this church in 1524. The last speaker of Cochin Portuguese Creole, William Rozario a Luso-Asian who passed away in August 2010.

Perhaps this talk should have been entitled “The quest for Luso-Asian cousins”. Let me start by explaining what a Luso-Asian is. As in anything to do with human identity and legacy of empire, things cannot fit into neat boxes and notions of definition are fluid, ranging from fact to fantasy.

There are three descending markers that define a Luso-Asian:

  1. An Asian Person who has a genetic connection to Portugal.

  2. An Asian person who is culturally connected to Portugal by history, religion, language, name, customs and cuisine.

  3. A person hailing from a former Portuguese colony in Asia and presently or formally holding Portuguese nationality.

We had already visited several islands in Southeast Asia including Timor - Leste on Timor andAtauro in 2008. The plan now was to fly from Bali to the town of Larantuka on the tip of Eastern Flores in 2018. From Larantuka we hoped to sail to Adonara Islandand Solor Island. There was a possibility of a further light to Kupang in Indonesian Timor. But the eruption of Mount Agung on Bali reminded us of the geological forces of the region and requiredsome last-minute changes. We flew to Djakarta and on to Kupang in Indonesian West Timorto get to Larantuka. Our return was another circuitous journey via Kupang, Surabaya and Djarkarta to Hong Kong. I also hoped that over the next three years I would be able to visit archives in Macau, Portugal and the UK to complete the research. Sadly, this was halted by family circumstances in the UK, issues in Hong Kong and COVID-19. So, what you see is the work in progress, which is on hold for the moment.

What I Found

We were of course travelling within the heart of a language family that is extraordinary widespread. Ancient Austronesians travelled Westwards by sail to occupy Madagascar, and Eastwards all the way to the Hawaiian Islands and Easter Island. There are Austronesian speakers today in Taiwan. The islands that the Portuguese referred to as “Flores” are called the Lesser Sunda Islands.

The largest of these islands is the Island of Flores, which is to the east of Komodo island famous for its giant lizards. The ancient Austronesians appear to have had an amazing cartographic knowledge. One remembers that the Maori likened their North Island (Te Ika a Maui) to a fish caught by legendary Maui and the South Island (Te Waka a Maui) to his upturned canoe. Flores Island was originally called Pulau Nipa or Snake Island – referring to its serpent-like shape. Nearby Timor Island was said by locals to be the back of a Crocodile.

The Spice Islands

Long before the arrival of the Europeans in the sixteenth century. Southeast Asians had been trading amongst themselves. By the fifteenth century a system of local trade routes had developed that connected the region with China and Japan to the North, Malacca and on to India in the East and there may have been trade southwards beyond Timor to Northern Australia. The most precious exports of the region were cloves from the islands of Ternate and Tidore. Nutmeg and Mace came from Banda Islands. These were the only sources in the world for these spices.

But there were other valuable trading items including Bird of Paradise feathers from the Aru Islands and New Guinea, Batik from Java and Ikat textiles from Flores and Sumba. Rice and Sago were extensively traded foods. There were also some important wood products – which I will talk about later.

Within a year of their capture of Malacca in 1511 the Portuguese realised that most of the prized Sandalwood came from islands somewhere to the southeast of Malacca and perhaps south of the “Spice Islands”. In 1512 they arrived at Ternate, Tidore and Banda. But did not initially establish either a factory or a castle.

Over the next ten years the Portuguese explored the region giving the name of Cabo de Flores (Cape of Flowers) to the Eastern end of a long island, if you like this is the curled tail of the snake described by the ancient Austronesians.

The name was given due to the bright red and orange flowers of the Delonix regia trees (called Royal Poinciana in English) that were in bloom along the coast of the island. The flowers appear in November - December. These ones are in Victoria Park, Hong Kong.

East of Flores Island was a narrow passage – the Strait of Flores, that allowed vessels to sail in a “S”-shaped route between the Flores Sea in the North to the Savu Sea in the South To the east of Adonara Island the Portuguese became aware of the Island of Lembata. However, they initially merged the islands of Pantar and Alor into one island that they called Ombai. The name survives today as the Ombai Strait. For ease I have marked the Portuguese forts, churches and the dates that these were established.

Initially from 1512 around the Portuguese were drawn to Lamakera at the north-eastern end of Solor island and by 1520 a small Portuguese community was formed. Without doubt the draw for the Portuguese was that this location was strategically on an established trade route from Timor through the Lesser Sunda Islands to Makassar, the Malukus and on to China. The hinterland of Solor was of little agricultural value but the sea was rich in marine life and the settlement was a producer of turtle shell, bêche de mer and ambergris The island of Sumba to the west and the large island of Timor beyond Savu Sea were particularly rich in Sappanwood (Caesalpinia sappan) which was used in dying in China.

Two primary ethnic groups existed in the region. In the West of Flores and Timor islands Malay features and Malayo-Polynesian languages predominated, in the East of Flores and Timor and the adjacent islands, Papuan features and Central Malayo-Polynesian languages dominated. However, along the North coast of Flores, Adonara and Timor, more recent Malay groups had settled or intermarried with the locals producing Muslim communities. The inland areas remained largely animistic and there was a constant friction between these two groups.

The story of the formation of the Luso-Asians in the region begins at the island of Solor. Sadly, our plan to visit the island of Solor and the remains of the fort were cancelled with just a few days warning due to inter-ethnic clashes.

Between 1512 and 1558 a mixture of Portuguese men and converted women from various Malay and Papuan ethnic groups settled at Lamakera on the Eastern tip of Solor Island. To this community were drawn people (often converts and slaves) from other Portuguese possessions including Ambon, Malacca, Macau, Goa as well as from Mozambique Island. A form of creole Portuguese called simply Portugis had developed in Malacca over the sixteenth century and became the lingua-franca of this mixed population. At the time this mixed Luso-Asian community was known by the Portuguese exonym of mestiço (Asian-European mixed) or topaz. The latter was term from Portuguese India and suggested a community that was bilingual in Portuguese and another Asian language. But it also suggested some genetic mixture and Portuguese acculturation.

In 1561 four Dominican missionaries under the order of Brother António Da Cruz left Malacca and arrived at Solor. The Dominicans initially built a wooden fort at Lohayong on the north shore of the island facing Adonara in 1562.The fort was burnt down by a Javanese raid in 1563. But the Dominicans continued their mission and reconstructed it in stone in 1566. This became known as the O Forte de Solor.Within the fort they built a dormitory, a seminary and the church of Nossa Senhora de Piedade. Soon more Portuguese men with their Malay women arrived and Lohayong became the primary Portuguese port for the sandalwood trade from Timor and for a regional slave trade. By 1590 the Christian population of Solor numbered 25,000. The Dominicans built the church of São João Evangelista (Saint John the Evangelist) at Lamakera, but it was destroyed in 1598.

Manuel Godinho de Erédia, who was born in Melaka of a Makkasaran mother and Portuguese father. He studied at the Jesuit college of Goa and he was based there from 1584 as a cartographer where he undertook a massive study of all Portuguese fortresses in the Western Indian Ocean. In 1596 he travelled to Southeast Asia and wrote a geographical treatise on the region. He returned to Goa in 1611 and went on to map parts of India. He painted the unexpected arrival of a force led by Captain Luis Monteiro who came to the defence of the Solor Fort against a force from Makassar. Erédia had heard of a large land to the south of Timor, that he called Nuça Antara (or Nusa Antara) in 1601 and had planned to explore it, but fell ill in 1605. The only large land to the south of Timor is of course Australia.

Initially the indigenous Kingdom of Larantuka was based at the Eastern end of Flores in the shadow of mountain, Ille Mandrini. It controlled the adjacent islands including Solor. But in 1541 a fleet from Makassar attacked and captured Larantuka on Flores Island, thereby extending the Buginese control over the valuable sandalwood trade from Timor to Makassar. Some Portuguese traders and their mestiço agents from Solor decided to relocate away from the control of the Portuguese state and the Dominican missionaries and settled in Larantuka which guarded the southern shore of the Flores Strait. They were quickly followed by the Dominicans and in 1596 a seminary with an intake of 50 students was built at Larantuka. The refugees and traders at Larantuka began to call themselves Larantuqueiros in the Portugis creole that was now a lingua-franca in the region and the cosmopolitan settlement became increasingly influenced by the Portuguese.

The Iberian Union between 1580 and 1640 brought all Portuguese settlements across the globe under Dutch attack ousting the Portuguese from the spice trade. The Dutch conquest of Malacca in 1641 resulted in Portuguese refugees including servants and slaves. One group established themselves at Larantuka.

The fort on Solor was wrested back and forth between the Dutch and Portuguese from 1613 to 1648. Through all of these events the Dominicans continued to hold sway among the locals and converts. But each attack produced more refugees who flocked to Larantuka bringing with them their trading networks. Even the powerful Dutch merchant De Hornay relocated. The Dutch called the Luso-Asians ZwartePortugeesen or Black Portuguese. The demise of Solor increased Larantuqueiro Sandalwood trading activities at Timor and resulted in clashes with the Timorese Kingdoms. The Dominicans followed the Larantuqueiro traders and also concentrated their activities in Timor especially at Lifau. Portuguese refugees from the Dutch attack on Makassar in 1660 also added further to Larantuka’s population.

When the Portuguese encountered the island of Adonara, they found it sparsely populated with less than ten villages. By 1599 the Portuguese had built two churches. Malacca Portuguese refugees with their retinues of servants and slaves who added to the village of Wureh.

At some point around 1650 or possibly earlier the Portuguese built a fort on a ridge on the northeast coast of Adonara Island about 60 to 70metres above sea level overlooking a mangrove-lined river estuary that made an ideal landing which we were able to visit. The village of Adonara developed just north and lower on the same ridge and became the seat of the local royalty which was at least partially Catholic. However, by the end of the seventeenth century the village had become Muslim.

By 1640 Larantuka had become the centre of Portuguese influence in the entire region including Kupang and Lifau on Timor and this helped to consolidate the sandalwood trade to Macau. In the following year the Portuguese decided to make Lifau the capital of their interests in the region instead of Larantuka, which had held that position since 1613.

The Luso-Dutch Treaty of 1661 formally consolidated Dutch rule over the bay at Kupang. In the following year the Portuguese decided to make Lifau the capital of their interests in the region instead of Larantuka, which had held that position since 1613. But it was not until 1681 that the Portuguese formally listed Timor and the Solor Archipelago as part of their Estado or Eastern Empire.

Theoretically the Larantuqueiros were under the Portuguese crown, but in actual fact they were autonomous with the support of the Dominican clergy and did not pay tribute or taxes to Portugal. Letters to Lisbon by their kings were ignored. Locally, a power struggle between the da Costa and de Hornay clans ensued for many years, until they agreed to share power. The Larantuqueiros established Portuguese as their official language. Though the languages of commerce remained Portugis Creole and Malay.

Larantuka was now geographically slightly off the new dominant route from Dili to Macau, a situation that would worsen as ship technology improved. During the course of the eighteenth century the Larantuqueiros began trading with the Dutch based at Batavia who found new global markets for sappanwood. Throughout the seventeenth century a series of Catholic kings ruled over Larantuka, backed by the Dominicans who provided instruction in Portuguese as well as literacy for the elite. The kings acquired Catholic names and were addressed as “Dom”.

In 1701 King João V decided to separate the roles of the state and the church. He legitimised Portugal’s role in the region by appointing a governor of the “Province of Solor and Timor” who would report to the Viceroy of the Indies in Goa. But with only about a hundred men at his disposal the governor could only maintain indirect control and this allowed the Dom of Larantuka and the chiefs of Timor to manage their own affairs during his four-year term.

This canon stands outside the King’s Palace and is typical of many attempts at narrating heritage in Southeast Asia, I think the rubber tyres are not exactly in good taste.

The Larantuqueiros continued to control the sandalwood trade into the nineteenth century and when the Portuguese tried to regain control of the sources at Timor, the Larantuqueiros contested their presence even at Dili.

When the Lucy Cleveland visited Dili in 1829, the town was a distant Portuguese colony, its governor was carried around on a litter, which Mrs Cleveland supposed was carried by slaves. Lucy Cleveland had joined her husband William an American trader who was looking to purchase sandalwood as part of the “China Trade”. Interestingly, they were unable to procure sandalwood in Kupang but with the help of a Portuguese merchant they did get a cargo of sandalwood at Dili and sailed to Macau. In 1844 The Portuguese stopped administering it’s Eastern Empire from Goa and shifted its administration of Larantuka and Timor to Macau. This reflected the trading links of the region and attracted Cantonese traders.

In 1851 the Portuguese in Timor were in debt and sought any means to provide an income for their two remaining possessions in Southeast Asia, Timor and the Lesser Sundas. In 1854, the year that naturalist Alfred Wallace sailed out to Southeast Asia the Portuguese offered the Dutch the sovereign rights to the Lesser Sundas and the remaining half of western Timor, with the exception of Oecussi and the settlement of Lifau for 200,000 florins. The treaty also allowed for the Dutch and Portuguese to swap some territory on Timor. The total area of the Portuguese territory that passed to the Netherlands was around 20,897 Sq. Kms which is about the same area as Wales. The Luso-Dutch Treaty of 20 April 1859 ratified the frontiers suggested in 1854, but there were still border issues in Timor to be resolved. By the time Albert Wallace left Southeast Asia in 1862, the Larantuqueios were no longer Portuguese nationals.

During the course of the eighteenth century some Larantuqueiros relocated to Kupang where they married with European sandalwood traders. Combining the Larantuqueiro regional networks with international networks. Women played an important part in this process and perhaps this is how we should view the wife of Captain Drysdale painted by Thomas Baines in 1856 at Kupang. Albert Wallace describes Mrs Drysdale as person of “European and Chinese parentage”. Baines painted many of the images for The Malay Archipelago by naturalist Albert Wallace, and we know that Wallace sailed from Makassar to Kupang via Larantuka during his eight years in Southeast Asia.

Intangible Portuguese heritage in the Lesser Sunda Islands is most noticeable in three areas; religion, language and nomenclature.

The most discernible Portuguese heritage in the Lesser Sunda region is Catholicism. The Larantuka district (kecamatan) is 95.4% Catholic today. As outlined, in the past the Dominicans where responsible for the spread of Christianity in the region, however given their small numbers, the lay organisations they established gained greater social importance. The most important occasion in the Larantuquiero year is the Holy Week (Semana Santa) before Easter. The events are centred on two statues that the Portuguese Gaspar do Espírito Santo and Agostinho de Madelina and the Luso-Asian refugees brought from Malacca in the 17th century. One is of Christ (O Senyor) and the other is of the Virgin Mary Queen of the Rosary.

The Holy Week celebrations in Larantuka incorporate more than a religious ceremony. These activities bring together the historical icons that trace the Larantuquiero origins to sixteenth century Portuguese Malacca. These confraternities (confrarais) are medieval European institutions.Their existence in the Lesser Sundas connects them with the confraternities that emerged at the Azores, Madeira, São Tome and Cape Verde in the Atlantic. Coincidently, the first confraternity in the Kongo Kingdom was the Rosary brotherhood established in Angola in 1610 by the Dominicans. By including the important Queen of Rosary confraternity, these Luso-Asians re-establish and maintain inter-communal connections especially between Larantuka on Flores and the closely related communities in the region.

Larantuka Malay or Bahasa Larantuka as a distinct Malay language emerged from refugees of other Portuguese possessions who spoke Larantuquiero Portugis or seventeenth century Creole Malay and the local languages. Today there are around 23,000 native speakers of Bahasa Larantuka, which is the language of Larantuka and the adjoining shore of Adonara. Larantuka Malay is also found at the towns of Sikka and Maumere on Flores. The native speakers identify themselves as Nagi which is a name that they also apply to the Larantuka town itself. The language also known as Bahasa Nagi is considered endangered. But there are many more second-language speakers since it serves as a lingua-franca for Eastern Flores and the nearby islands. The Larantuquiero Portugis is still used for some religious services however there are presently no speakers of Larantuquiero Portugis under the age of forty, though there are some old people who claim to speak it. Larantuquiero Portugis is also used in a kind of morality play called bobo which is performed at Easter at Sikka.

In contrast to the Portuguese archaeological heritage, the intangible Portuguese culture in its Luso-Asian construct is very much alive and celebrated. Portuguese words are found in Bahasa Larantuka and Portuguese recipes introduced by the clergy are also a feature of the local culture.

To the visitor the site of so many Catholic churches, chapels and shrines and the confraternities are the strongest surviving Portuguese heritage in the Lesser Sunda Islands, The Larantuquieros have not forgotten their former role within the Portuguese Eastern Empire. Their names and Bahasa Larantuka language are daily reminders of those past links.

Perhaps one of their strongest pre-colonial legacies is their rich textile tradition which is evolving from a cottage industry for domestic use, to a cooperative basis for the growing tourist and export market.

Larantuquiero culture is tied to the land and the sea and this is most noticeable when you travel out of Larantuka into the countryside. The towns are dominated by Muslim Indonesians and Chinese businesses, but the countryside villages are entirely dominated by Catholic families, parish churches and mission schools. Keeping the agricultural economy vibrant is vital to the survival of the culture. In Adonara and the rocky Northern coast, cashews are providing a valuable income and are harvested on a family basis. On upland areas of Flores with its volcanic soils, coffee is becoming a popular cash crop.

The construction of the new airport at Larantuka has not yet increased international and national tourism to Eastern Flores. Over capacity at diving resorts in Western Flores and at Komodo National Park has led to the temporary closing of the park, but also to divers seeking new sites in Eastern Flores. This may help to reduce the reef-bombing fishing in the area and support the reef restoration projects started by the late Christopher Foster. Diving may also help to protect prospective wreck sites, but without policing it may also attract illegal pillaging of wrecks.

The Larantuquieros are eager to develop their region which also has great potential for ecotourism. What is fascinating is that contrary to the view of European colonialism being dominated by people of European descent and being instructed from Europe. I have evidenced that from the charting and manning Portuguese ships, Asians, Luso-Asians and others played their part. In the case of the Larantuquieros, they are a community of variable ethnic origins from Portuguese coastal strongholds in Africa, India and China, as well as different ethnicities within Southeast Asia, where the Portuguese certainly played a part. Most political and religious decisions were mainly in Goa and later Macau, and the majority of the Dominican clergy that came to the region were of Luso-Asian or Christian Indian origin.

That the Larantuquieros have maintained their Luso-Asian heritage is commendable, given that in Malacca or Macau, the church or Portuguese state have intervened in the twentieth century to ensure the survival of the Malacca Portuguese and the Papia Kristang and Patuá languages. It is highly unlikely that the Larantuquiero Portugis language will exist beyond the next ten years. The Larantuquieros are eager to develop their region which has great potential for ecotourism and probably geothermal energy.

I was inspired by my own Luso-Asian family history of multiple-migrations to find out more about the Larantuqueiros, I was certainly not disappointed. So many aspects of the culture felt like echoes of my Luso-Asian family history.


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