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Haumeni, Not Many: Renewed Plunder and Mismanagement in the Timorese Sandalwood Industry

  • ANDREW McWILLIAM (a1)

Extract

There have been numerous occasions throughout history where the exploitation of a single commodity has transformed the fortunes of institutions, communities and even nations that have sought to benefit from its control. Middle Eastern oil, rubber from the former Belgian Congo or gold in South America provide a few striking case studies. For the eastern Indonesian island of Timor, the long-term struggle for the control and trade of high quality white sandalwood (Santalum album L) holds this pre-eminent position. The history of Timor, for perhaps the last millennium, has been intimately linked to the shifting fortunes of sandalwood production and trade. Over the centuries, the attraction of sandalwood and the fine scented oil produced from its heartwood, has encouraged an extraordinary array of diverse trading interests that jostled and warred for influence and a share of the lucrative profits from its exploitation and sale across Asia. For indigenous Timorese too, participation in sandalwood politics frequently lay at the heart of endemic struggles for power and wealth. The capacity to exert control over sandalwood production and trade from the interior of the island was a direct measure of political authority and standing among rival Timorese indigenous domains. To control the production and trade in sandalwood was to control the polity, at least to the extent that the situation remained uncontested. The converse also held true; namely that the holders of effective political power within Timorese domains were well placed to monopolise available sandalwood stocks. Thus to a significant degree the fortunes of Timorese society are mirrored in the history of sandalwood politics.

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Meto Timorese word for sandalwood meaning ‘fragrant wood’.

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Haumeni, Not Many: Renewed Plunder and Mismanagement in the Timorese Sandalwood Industry

  • ANDREW McWILLIAM (a1)

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