The island of Timor is itself an extraordinary gelogical formation which has been formed – and is still being formed – by the forward thrust of the Australian tectonic plate in the direction of the Asian plate. The movement of these massive plates has created and trapped a set of multi-island ridges of which Timor is the mos prominent. The mountains of Timor, given the enormous pressure that is being brought to bear benath them, are, in the geological future, expected to rise to the heights of the Himalayas.
The dominant soil type on the island is a soft, scaly clay which has been given a Timorese name, Bobonaro, taken from a region in the centre of Timor. Bobonaro clay substratum is averlaid tiwh a jumble of limestone and associated marl derived from the greater Australian landmass and a melange of volcanic materials and scattered outcrops of metamorphic rock piled upon by marine deposits and overlaid yet again by a stratum of raised reefs and corals. The geologist William Hamilton, in his masterful survey of the region, has aptly remarked that “Timor is a tectonic chaos”.
Hamilton’s evocation of chaos can be taken as a metaphor for subsequent development of Timor. As new know, patterns can be identified in different forms of chaos. The same is true of Timor but first impression are those of beweldering cmplexity.
Timor’s climate is dominated by brief but intense monsoonal rain – from Desember through February or March – followed by prolonged dry season. Rainwater, trapped in limestone deposits by irrengular sheets of clay, often surfaces in a scatter of fresh water springs. Perhaps a third of all settlement names on Timor include the word for water- such as Oe, Wai or We – indicating a source of fresh water.
Timor’s clay soils do not support heavy vegetation. They soak up rain and swell in the wet season; dry, crack, and fissure in the dry season. Historically, the Timorese population has carried on shifting agriculture on alluvial and limestone terraces or on the mixed, marine-based soils of ridges, slopes and valleys thoughout the mountains of the island, or they have developed more intensive agriculture on various alluvial plains, formed by Timor’s main river, along the coast. Through Timor’s history, there has always been a contrast between the population of the coast and the population of the mountains.
Timor rough, irrengularr, chaotic terrain has, however, militated against the build-up of populations in large continuous settlements. As a consequence, the population of Timor has traditionally lived scatted in smal settlements throughout the island, or has concentrated, often seasonally, in specific sites to exploit available resources. Local settlements have shifted periodically, and over long periods, to take adventage of ever changing conditions**.
** A classic geographic study of Timor, focusing almost entirely on the west, is by Ormeling (1955)
Prof. Dr. James J. Fox (Department of Anthropology Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies The Australian National University, Canberra)
Disadur dari Buku : Kebudayaan Sebuah Agenda dalam Bingkai Pulau Timor dan Sekitarnya!