Jump to content

WWII in East Timor – A Site and Travel Guide - LIQUIÇÁ MUNICIPALITY - MAUBARA

Edward Willis

Recommended Posts

  • Committee


WWII in East Timor – A Site and Travel Guide



8° 36' 42.98" S 125° 12' 22.00" E


Maubara is 26 miles (42 km.) from Dili at a bearing of 262°.  This small posto and market town is situated on the north coast and at the terminus of the coast road.  The posto itself is constructed on a knoll with its usual administrative and auxiliary buildings.  Several buildings were destroyed by floods during 1939.  Other buildings are church, school, and residences, most of which are built of stone with galvanized iron roofing.  There is an anchorage on the open beach of Maubara. [1]


Map of Maubara

The town of Maubara is situated by the sea on a narrow frontage, with the core of the town extending inland towards the hills behind, bounded on the eastern side by the Rio Bahonu and a smaller stream on the west.

Callinan was not as impressed with Maubara as he was with Liquiçá:

"We did not remain long in Liquissa, but drove on to Maubara, located at the end of the road-and indeed it looked like it!  The buildings were dilapidated, and the inhabitants were few.  A couple of us walked into the only open building we could see and found it to be a Chinese shop.  The occupants were distressed to see such martial figures and insisted on producing coffee and cakes whilst an old man told me how very old and ill he was, and that the only other occupants were women and children, flocks of whom were produced for our inspection.  Feeling very embarrassed, we beat a retreat as soon as courtesy permitted after the refreshments". [2]

In February 1942 the Dutch contingent stored rations and ammunition at the posto and school in the town as a transition base for their withdrawal by sea to Dutch Timor in anticipation of the arrival of the Portuguese reinforcements. [3]


Escola do Padre Medeiros (Father Medeiros’ School) where the Dutch stored rations and ammunition – photo taken 18 April 2014

Despite Callinan’s reservations about the attractiveness of the town it features affectionately in one of the longest anecdotes in his book related to Bols gin, one of the rations stored at the posto:

"One of our patrols which was around to the north of Ermera heard of a supply of Dutch stores at Maubara on the north coast.  These had been placed there prior to the Japanese landing with the intention of moving them by barges into Dutch Timor.  Our interest in the stores was increased when it was learnt that amongst them was some Bols gin, which was normally an issue with the R.N.E.I.A. After the Japanese landing the Chefe de Posto had moved the stores to his posto and sent an inventory to the Governor.  The Japanese had visited the town but once, and had not searched the posto, so that the stores were still intact, but the Chefe de Posto, a most conscientious and good man, would not part with the stores without the authority of the Governor.

Earlier there had been a misunderstanding between the Chefe de Posto and one of our troops, but this was smoothed over very well by Sousa Santos.  Shortly afterwards, through Sousa Santos, I received a letter from the Governor stating that the stores were available and that I could collect them provided I gave a receipt for all the goods received.  I was only too willing to supply a receipt, and the next day 200 natives left Bobonaro to skirt around the enemy and collect the stores from Maubara.  Within a week they were back with sixty-seven cases of Bols gin-twelve bottles to the case.  There were some other stores, but they were of little importance compared with the gin.

We sent a case of gin back to the Chefe de Posto at Maubara, expressing our appreciation of his probity and courtesy, and another case went to the Governor.  These gifts were entirely unofficial and, of course, were not acknowledged, but were probably enjoyed none the less.  One case went to the Dutch headquarters, and gifts were sent to various good friends amongst the Portuguese.  The remainder was distributed to the platoons.  I do not think any of us really drank much gin in normal times, but I thoroughly enjoyed neat Bols gin out of pannikins of all shapes, sizes and materials.  It provided a very welcome break for the whole company, and we lived in the memories and stories of that issue for a long time”. [4]

Maubara Posto

The posto at Maubara referred to by Callinan is one of the classics of its type.  Sited south of the town it overlooks, in a dominant hillside position on the eastern bank of the Rio Bahonu it provides expansive views along the coast to the east and west and inland to the hills behind.

Built in the late 1890s at the direction of Governor Celestino da Silva it was one of the network of military posts intended to provide for the effective colonial occupation of Portuguese Timor.

The Maubara stronghold represented a particular case, as it was a Dutch heritage, consisting of a solid stone and lime construction with a circular shape, with a European-style “good house” for the commander, a barracks for an inferior officer and another, in Timorese style, for 30 soldiers. [5]

"Naturally, the effectiveness of a military network depends on the interconnection of the units that comprise it.  In view of the difficulties in establishing an effective road network, Celestino da Silva bet on a telephone network connecting the main towns, whose assembly would be in charge of the postal and telegraph service section of the public works division.  In 1900, the first town to be linked to the capital was Maubara, later connecting to Batugadé, and branching to Boibau, Bobonaro, Aileu, Maubisse, Same, Lacló, Manatuto, Laclubar and Viqueque, arriving in Lautém in the last year of Celestino's government". [6]

593245557_Timor-CasaedependenciasdopostocivildeMaubara.thumb.png.07baa516b092043a5e2791b7ee5a4d1d.pngCasa e dependências do posto civil – Maubara, Timor 1925 [7]

The posto underwent extensive renovation during 2012-2015 financed by Portuguese government under the Mós Bele Program to transform it into boutique hotel for tourists.  It then lay unoccupied for several years, but in December 2020 the keys to the rehabilitated building were ‘handed over to the Ministry of Tourism, Commerce and Industry of Timor-Leste, the competent authority for the steps leading to the future concession of the building for the purpose of tourist exploitation’. [8]

Maubara Fort


The grey-walled fort that dominates the seafront here is of Dutch rather than Portuguese origin and dates from the mid-18th century.  The Dutch had an active interest in Maubara at this time as a prime site for coffee cultivation and introduced it to the island here and at Liquiçá from whence it gradually spread elsewhere to become the important cash crop it is today.  Dutch interest in the enclave waned over time and it was ceded to Portugal as part-payment part for a larger territorial deal finally concluded in 1861. [9]

Several large shady trees shelter the expansive rectangular interior of the fort that is leaf-littered and weedy bare earth apart from a single centrally located modern building.  Two old cannons are aimed seawards from bastions at either end of the northern wall.  Rustic and neglected wooden gates provide access to the fort from the north and south; they are installed in arches that stand taller than the walls. [10]




Maubara Fort – photo taken 26 April 2014

Portuguese Internment Zone at Maubara

In late October 1942, the Portuguese Governor reluctantly accepted the Japanese edict regarding ‘protective concentration’ and encouraged all Portuguese residents to move to ‘internment’ areas at Liquiçá, Maubara and the nearby hill village of Bazar Tete – this was deemed necessary for protection against the ‘rebeliões de indígenas (rebellious Timorese)’. 

Initially, the protection zone comprised the entire part of the coast stretching from Liquiçá to the mouth of the Lois River with people encouraged to gather in the towns of Liquiçá and Maubara.  However, earlier on, several families stayed in the immediate vicinity where they were better able to cultivate subsistence crops.  That situation changed quickly, with constant intimidation and confrontations with the ‘colunas negros’ (black columns).

In May 1943, members of the Portuguese military detachment in Maubara were disarmed and demobilised.  In the town, some internees still managed to maintain small vegetable gardens.  Gradually, through more or less indirect pressure, the Japanese were also urging Timorese to stop selling their produce in weekly markets.  Anxieties were further increased by sporadic Allied bombing and strafing attacks that sometimes caused Portuguese and Timorese casualties.  In September 1944, without warning, the Japanese ordered the transfer of the approximately 200 people based in Maubara to Liquiçá, further undermining living conditions for the internees. [12]

Monument to José Nunes, the Loyal Regulo of Maubara

Departing the southern gate of the fort, in front of the grounds of the primary school there is a significant Portuguese monument; the plaque on this monument bears the inscription: ‘Homenagem do Governo de Timor au seu mui fiel regulo de Maubara José Nunes (1874-1952)’.

In mid-November 1943, Maubara was defended from attacks by rebellious warriors from Balibó, Cailaco and Atabai by local men led by the loyal liurai José Nunes and his son Gaspar, who supported a small Portuguese detachment of indigenous soldiers. [13]


Rui Brito da Fonseca has provided this description of the monument:

"D. Jose was always faithful to the Portuguese, so his camp deserved the confidence of carrying out guard of honour to the Governor.  I still remember in memory the impressive parade of the Cavalry of Maubara, commanded by the imposing D. Gaspar, son of Jose Nunes, accompanied by his principals, when Governor Alves Aldeia arrived in Portugal on the 20th of March April 1974.

He was considered a hero in the Manufahi War in 1913.

He helped the Portuguese in such a way when, from the end of 1942, they were confined to the Protection Zone of Maubara and Liquiçá, that many, undoubtedly, owed him for their survival".


Monumento fúnebre do liurai José Nunes – photograph taken 26 April 2018

"At the end of the conflict and the Japanese expelled, the governor wanted to publicly show his recognition by granting the honour of being himself the first liurai to fly the Portuguese flag outside Dili, thus beginning the reception of the term by the Portuguese administrative authorities.

It is said that, on a certain occasion during the Japanese occupation, some Japanese officials, on the birthday of the Emperor, invited D. Jose Nunes to propose a toast to the Great Japanese Empire, to which he acceded.  Soon after, he asked for the floor and, tell the storytellers, that the assembly trembled in fear of what the liurai might say, such was his unbelievable spirit.  Then, Jose Nunes, raised his glass, getting cold silence and in his gentle authority he said: - I toast Portugal, which is even greater!

As an old man, he expressed to the Government that his greatest desire was to be buried under the shadow of the national flag that he knew.  Years later, his will was done, and he was buried in a monument whose shade shadows his grave and the representation of the flag he served.

This monument inspired a whole series of funerary monuments in the centre of the neighbouring villages with the rolled-up cover, symbolising the flag in which he believed in life". [14]




[1] Area study of Portuguese Timor: 27-28.

[2] Callinan, Bernard. - Independent Company : the Australian Army in Portuguese Timor 1941-43. - Richmond, Vic.: Heinemann, 1984.: 23.

[3] J.J. Nortier ‘De bezetting van Dilly, Portugees Timor: geallieerd initiatief in de eerste weken van de oorlog tegen Japan [The occupation of Dilly, Portuguese Timor: Allied initiative in the first weeks of the war against Japan]’ Ons Leger 63 September 1979: 49-60.

[4] Callinan, Bernard. - Independent Company : the Australian Army in Portuguese Timor 1941-43. - Richmond, Vic. : Heinemann, 1984: 119-120.

[5] Isabel Boavida ‘Celestino da Silva, a rede de postos militares e a ocupação colonial efetiva de Timor português (1895–1905): Um processo (des)construtivo’ [Celestino da Silva, the network of military posts and the effective colonial occupation of Portuguese Timor (1895–1905): A (de) constructive process] Journal of Asian History, Vol. 48, No. 2 (2014): 249.

[6] Boavida: 255.

[7] https://www.archives.gov.mo/webas/ArchiveDetail2016.aspx?id=58081

[8] Timor-Leste: Delivery of Pousada de Maubara (https://www.instituto-camoes.pt/sobre/comunicacao/noticias/timor-leste-entrega-da-pousada-de-maubara)

[9] W.G. Clarence-Smith “Planters and smallholders in Portuguese Timor: the nineteenth and twentieth centuries” Indonesia Circle no. 57, 1992: 15-30.

[10] See also Steve Farram ‘The Maubara fort, a relic of eighteenth-century local autonomy and Dutch-Portuguese rivalry on Timor’ Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 50 (2) May 2019: 263–287.

[11] AWM 125217

[12] See Manuel de Abreu Ferreira de Carvalho. - Relatório dos acontecimentos de Timor (1942-45) [Report of Timorese events (1942­45)]. - Lisboa: Edições Cosmos, 2003: 406-412, Antonio de Oliveira Liberato. - Os japoneses estiveram em Timor [The Japanese were in Timor]. - Lisboa: Empresa Nacional da Publicade, 1951: ‘A Zona De Concentração’153-208, and Jose Duarte Santa. - Australianos e japoneses em Timor na II Guerra Mundial, 1941-1945 [Australians and Japanese in Timor in the Second World War, 1941-1945]. - Lisboa: Noticias, 1997 for the most detailed account.

[13] Rocha, Carlos Vieira da. - Timor: ocupação japonesa durante a Segunda Guerra Mundial (2a. ed. rev. e ampliada). Sociedade Histórica da Independência de Portugal, Lisboa, 1996: 107.

[14] Rui Brito da Fonseca. - Monumentos portugueses em Timor-Leste. - Dili, Timor Leste : [Crocodilo Azul?], 2005: 52-53.

[15] AWM 12516.















Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...