In the course of a post on the Australian National University’s new online edition of Out of the Ashes: Deconstruction and Reconstruction of East Timor, Joel of Far Outliers quotes the following passage from the first chapter (by James J. Fox), which obviously resonated strongly with me:
With their strongholds on both Flores and Timor, this mixed, part-Portuguese population of local islanders resisted all attempts to dislodge them. This population became known as the Larantuqueiros or as the Tupassi (‘Topasses’, purportedly from the word for hat, topi, because the Topasses regarded themselves ‘Gente de Chapeo‘: ‘People of the Hat’)—or, as was common in all Dutch documents, the ‘Black Portuguese’ (Swarte Portugueezen). In the language of the Atoni Pa Meto population, who had the longest established contact with them on Timor, these Topasses were known as the Sobe Kase: ‘The Foreign Hats’. (Yet another variant of this designation, among the Rotinese, on the small island at the western tip of Timor, was Sapeo Nggeo: ‘The Black Hats’.)
These Topasses became the dominant, independent, seafaring, sandalwood-trading power of the region for the next 200 years. They were a multilingual group. Portuguese was their status language which was also used for worship; Malay was their language of trade, and most Topasses spoke, as their mother-tongue, a local language of Flores or Timor.
The chapter has extremely useful material on the peoples of the country, with a nice linguistic map (Map 1): “All the languages of Timor belong to one of two major language groupings: the Austronesian language family or the Trans-New Guinea phylum of languages.”