The national historical account of the East Timorese people struggling against colonial rule during the long duration of Portuguese colonialism (1769-1975) and Indonesian occupation (1975-1999) has been dominated by the narrative of male heroes engaged in armed resistance or in clandestine networks, with only a few exceptions. Moreover, the history of everyday life under colonial rule and occupation has been object of scant research, in particular women’s lives and roles in these periods, and of analysis on how the colonialism had an impact in women's daily lives.
This paper examines the results of an oral history research project which managed to record women's daily lives in rural areas and in the capital during the periods of Portuguese late-colonialism (1950-1975) and Indonesian occupation (1975-1999) in the districts of Bobonaro, Dili, Ermera, Lospalos and Suai. This was a research project carried out by a team of Timor-Leste’s based researchers from the Commission of Research and History Production of the Timorese Women (CPEHMT) and the Popular Organisation of the Timorese Women (OPMT) which aimed at ‘documenting the experience of women who lived through the Indonesian occupation and resulted in interviewing nearly 800 people’.
The histories told by these women do not carry the self-identification of ‘heroic actions’ in the sense that is attributed in contemporary Timor-Leste. The research shows that women from all social classes and occupations were engaged in essential roles which sustained their families and their communities’ social-economic life, extending from Portuguese colonial times through to independence.