THE EMPIRE OF SONBAI

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City, port and fort on the island of Solor, which the Dutch captured in 1613

THE EMPIRE OF SONBAI AND THE COLONIZATION OF KUPANG

At the beginning of the 17th century, most of the tribal kingdoms had their roots deepened in the Wehali, an ancient and prosperous kingdom along the eastern coast, which had reached its hegemony during the 15th century. It was a theocratic Monarchy since its dynasty claimed its divine descent. Also, this divine inheritance justified that the Sovereigns of Wehali were the introducers of agriculture in Timor.

The flourishing of Wehali is considered the golden age of Timorese history. According to local traditions, the titles of "Son of God" and "Son of Heaven" were attributed to their Sovereigns, the latter in parallel with the Chinese imperial title.

In the last third of the 16th century, after the death of one of his Monarchs, the Kingdom was divided among his three sons, each of whom received a portion of territory in which he would exercise his sovereignty.

 

The western area of the island was renamed the Principality of Likusaen (Liurai Likusaen). The central remained as Principality of Wehali (Liurai Wehali). Finally, the western one became the Principality of Sonbai (Liurai Sonbai).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Principality of Sonbai began to achieve rapid political prominence in the western sector of the island, largely due to its mastery of Wehali agricultural techniques, little known in that part of Timor, and its military superiority over other countries realms.

Monument to the warriors of the Sonbai Empire, in the city of Kupang. The military superiority of Sonbai would be a decisive factor in its political preponderance and subsequent evolution during the colonial period.


A Portuguese historical testimony gives us important information about Sonbai. It is a memorandum drawn up by the Portuguese Governor of Timor in 1811, collected in the Instrucções do Conde de Sarzedas. Thanks to this European documentary source, which confirms local traditions, we know that the West of the island, Servião, comprised a total of sixteen kingdoms, among which the most important was Sonbai, whose Sovereign Princes adopted the title of Emperor. Among the territories of the Sonbai Empire, too, was Kupang.

The truth is that both the local tradition (l'Adat) and the European chronicles coincide in attributing the title of Emperor to the Princes of Sonbai. The Portuguese allude to the Imperator of Sonbai, while the Dutch refer to the Keizer.

The Portuguese Government of Timor sent troops to contain the Dutch invasion. But, at the same time, he gained the support of the Sonbai Empire. However, in 1655, thanks to the diplomatic and commercial skills of the Dutch, the Sonbai changed sides and turned their weapons against the Portuguese.

The Dutch continued to exploit their diplomatic successes to expand their control of Kupang and western Timor. First, gaining the prevailing influence in Sonbai Kecil, they strove to obtain it also in Sonbai Besar, which they finally achieved around 1760. The next move was the reunification of the former Sonbai Empire, in 1776, under the reign of Alphonsus Adrianus Nisnoni, Prince of Sonbai Kecil.

Beginning in 1815, peace and mercantile activity made Kupang once again the prosperous port it had been for the previous century. There was also a gradual development of colonial power, already assumed directly by the Crown, instead of the Dutch East India Company.

 

In 1859, when William III reigned in the Netherlands and Pedro V in Portugal, a treaty signed by the two nations would delimit the border between them, later revised and modified twice, in 1893 and 1911 Ships of the Dutch East India Company, mid-18th century painting.

THE 20TH CENTURY: JAPANESE OCCUPATION AND INDONESIAN INDEPENDENCE

The Second World War would have important and decisive consequences for Kupang.

 

In May 1940, Hitler invaded Holland and quickly occupied the country, forcing Queen Wilhelmina and the government into exile in Great Britain. To these events would soon be added the Japanese conquest of Indonesia.

Indeed, from December 1941, Japan entered the war and unleashed a series of energetic and simultaneous offensives against the United States, Great Britain, and Holland, one of whose consequences would be the total and rapid occupation of the Dutch East Indies.

 

On May 25, 1942, the Imperial Japanese Army first flew the Rising Sun flag in Kupang.

 

The Second World War would end in Asia with the Japanese capitulation on August 15, 1945. Two days later, the Indonesian nationalists led by Ahmed Sukarno proclaimed the independence of Indonesia.

 

 

 

 


 

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Monument to the warriors of the Sonbai Empire, in the city of Kupang. The military superiority of Sonbai would be a decisive factor in its political preponderance and subsequent evolution during the colonial period.

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Juliana I, Queen of the Netherlands from 1948 to 1980, affixed her signature to the document that recognizes

the sovereignty of the new Republic of Indonesia. To her left is the Indonesian Vice President, Mohamed Hatta.

The photograph was taken in The Hague on December 27, 1949