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The fortified settlement of Macapainara, Lautem District, Timor‑Leste in Forts and Fortification in Wallacea: Archaeological and Ethnohistoric Investigations

Abstract : The hilltop location known as Macapainara is an extensive fortified settlement complex near the modern coastal village of Com. Although the settlement is no longer occupied, families living in the modern harbour village of Com identify it as their ancestral homeland and visit the ancestral graves in the settlement to perform rituals. Macapainara is 175 m above sea level and approximately 2 km in from the northern coastline of Timor-Leste. In 2008, excavations were carried out within the walls in order to assess the nature and chronology of occupation. The phenomenon of fort building and its chronology in Timor Leste have been examined elsewhere (Fenner and Bulbeck 2013; O’Connor et al. 2012). Here we focus on describing the excavated cultural assemblage. The Macapainara settlement occurs over two levels. The upper level, known as Ili Vali, references the large rocky bluff on which this part of the complex is located. Ili Vali has a narrow stone entrance way, several graves made of dressed stone and several large flat circular dressed disks made of a fine-grained sedimentary rock, identified locally by the term ‘batu Makassar’ (see McWilliam et al. 2012). The lower level, known as Macapainara, is surrounded by massive encircling stone walls to the north and south that are up to 3 m high and 2 m thick at the base. This area is a natural sediment trap and was selected for excavation as the part of the complex most likely to have a deep deposit. Macapainara has several graves, including one very large structure facing east–west identified as a double grave, containing the remains of the former ruler of Ili Vali/Macapainara and his close political ally (McWilliam et al. 2012). This grave measures 3 m in length and c. 2.2 m in width. The base of the grave is constructed from shaped limestone blocks while the upper section is made from the flat slabs of dressed fine‑grained sedimentary rock. At the time of our field visit a Chinese Blue and White tradeware bowl was placed on the surface. Senior clansmen of the contemporary settlements of Mua Pusu and Loho Matu, in the village of Com, recall in their oral histories a time when they lived at Macapainara. During this period, they were actively engaged in inter-island exchange networks, including lucrative trade in sandalwood and human slaves. According to oral histories of the area there was a strong relationship between endemic warfare, the maintenance of fortified settlements and the enslavement of rival communities. Control over the strategic anchorages of the coast enabled them to benefit from the flow of high-value trade goods, especially muzzle-loader firearms, ammunition and gunpowder, while acting as intermediaries with hinterland groups trafficking in war captives and slaves. In the process, the coastal groups grew rich and contributed to their reputation as Orang Kai. This was a widely used term across the Malay trading world, including the neighbouring islands of the Moluccas, where the Orang Kaya represented an oligarchy of elders from small but wealthy communities who had established a ‘mercantile aristocracy’ (see Goodman 1998; McWilliam 2007; Villiers 1981:728–729).
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Submitted on : Wednesday, September 9, 2020 - 11:47:07 AM
Last modification on : Friday, January 15, 2021 - 1:27:21 PM

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Sue O'Connor, Andrew Mcwilliam, Sally Brockwell, David Bulbeck, Noel Amano, et al.. The fortified settlement of Macapainara, Lautem District, Timor‑Leste in Forts and Fortification in Wallacea: Archaeological and Ethnohistoric Investigations. Sue O’Connor, Sally Brockwell, Ursula Frederick, Tristen Jones, Ceri Shipton and Mathieu Leclerc. Forts and Fortification in Wallacea: Archaeological and Ethnohistoric Investigations, 53 (1st), ANU Press, pp.13-48, 2020, Terra Australis 53, 9781760463885. ⟨10.22459/TA53.2020⟩. ⟨halshs-02934380⟩

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