Oecussi-Ambeno (Tetum:Oe-Kusi Ambenu, also variously Ocussi, Oekussi, Oekusi, Okusi, Oé-Cusse) is a district of East Timor. It is a coastal exclave in the western part of the island of Timor, separated from the rest of East Timor by West Timor, which is part of the province of Nusa Tenggara Timur, Indonesia, and which surrounds Oecussi-Ambeno in all directions except the north, where it borders the Savu Sea. The capital of the district is Pante Macassar, also called Ocussi Town, or formerly, in Portuguese Timor, as Vila Taveiro.

The district has an area of 815 square kilometers.

A ferry boat connects the territory to Dili, arriving twice a week on a journey which takes 12 hours.

An airport exists, Oecussi Airport.


Oecussi and Ambeno are the names of the two original kingdoms, of which Ambeno existed before the colonial period.

Oecussi-Ambeno was the first part of the island of Timor on which the Portuguese established themselves, and is thus usually considered the cradle of East Timor. In 1556, a group of Dominican brothers started missionary work on the north coast of Timor. In 1641 they arrived to the village of Lifau, five km to the west of modern Pante Macassar, where they baptized the royal family of the Ambeno kingdom. A permanent Portuguese settlement arose in the 1650s due to migration from Larantuka on Flores. The Eurasian population in Lifau became known as Topasses. After 1664 they were governed by officers belonging to the Hornay and Da Costa families, and were able dominate most of Timor. In 1702, Lifau became the authorized capital of the colony when it received the first governor from Lisbon. The following period saw frequent clashes between the governor and the independent-minded Topasses, who had their strongholds in Tulicão west of Lifau, and Animata in the inland. Under their leader Gaspar da Costa they attacked the Dutch colonial post at Kupang in 1749 but were smashingly defeated, and subsequently moved their residence to Pante Macassar (Oecussi) in 1759 due to Dutch military pressure. The capital of the governor was transferred from Lifau to Dili in 1769, because of the frequent attacks from the Topass leader Francisco Hornay III. Most of West Timor was left to Dutch forces, who were conquering what is today Indonesia. The Eurasian leadership of Oecussi by and by turned into a bona fide Timorese kingship, and members of the Hornay and Da Costa families reigned as Liurai (kings) until modern times. They regularly intermarried with the Ambeno royalty. In the 1780s a reconciliation took place between the governor in Dili and the Topasses, who henceforth usually supported the Portuguese government.

It was only in 1859, with the Treaty of Lisbon, that Portugal and the Netherlands divided the island between them. West Timor became Dutch, with its colonial seat at Kupang, and East Timor became Portuguese, with its seat in Dili. This left Oecussi-Ambeno as an enclave surrounded by Dutch territory. In 1912 the Liurai of Ambeno, João da Cruz, staged a revolt against the Portuguese. It was quickly put down, after which the Ambeno kingdom lapsed. The Liurai of Oecussi became dominant in the entire Oecussi-Ambeno exclave. The definitive border was drawn by the Hague in 1916. Apart from Japanese occupation during World War II, the border remained the same until the end of the colonial period. The region was given the status of municipality, named Oecússi, by the Portuguese government in August 1973, the last Timorese area to receive it.

It was in Pante Macassar that an Indonesian fifth column raised the Indonesian flag and took control of the exclave on 29th November, 1975, a week before the Indonesian invasion of East Timor proper. However, even under Indonesian rule, Oecussi-Ambeno was administered as part of the province of East Timor, as it had been as part of Portuguese Timor. Like much of the country, it suffered violent attacks near the 1999 referendum for independence. Over 90 percent of the infrastructure was destroyed. It became part of the independent state of East Timor on 20 May 2002.

In the 1970s and 1980s, New Zealander anarchist Bruce Grenville began a hoax, claiming to have founded the sultanate of Occussi-Ambeno. He invented a history for the state of tribes united against the Portuguese. He then printed stamps, letterheads, and so forth, which generated income by mail order. He even established diplomatic relations with a few small states, including Monaco, Liechtenstein, and the Republic of Minerva.

Administrative divisions

Oecussi-Ambeno is divided into 4 subdistricts:

The subdistricts are divided into 19 sucos (communities) in total.


The district has a population of 58,521 people, divided into 13,016 households (Census 2004).

The Atoni, one of many indigenous ethnic groups, number about 20,000 in the district. A much larger number live in the surrounding part of West Timor.


In addition to the official languages of East Timor, Tetum and Portuguese, Indonesian is widely used as a lingua franca in the area.

The Atoni speak Baikeno, an Austronesian language. This language is surviving well, with many monolingual speakers. There are few loans from Portuguese and almost none from Tetum in the language.


Most of the inhabitants are Roman Catholics.


External links

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