Episode 3: Gua Tujuh, Venilale Subdistrict

Gua Tujuh (Seven Caves)

Venilale Subdistrict, Baucau

The arrival of the Japanese military in Thailand in December 1941, then forcefully moved inward into Dutch East Indies, brought World War II upon South East Asia with the key objective of securing economic and much-needed material resources to maintain their war effort. Subsequently, on 19 February 1942, the Japanese military invaded the island of Timor, which was then colonised by Netherlands in the Western side (which will become West Timor and a part of Indonesia) and Portugal in the East (which will become East Timor), with the plan of isolating Australia and New Zealand.

The invasion was met with a brief resistance by two under equipped Australian contingents: Gull Force and Sparrow Force. Portugal, the occupying force, was pressured by Japan to remain neutral (which was their official policy during WWII). However a number of the colonists and many East Timorese civilians fought along and helped the Allies through guerilla warfare.

The Japanese eventually made their way to Uma-Ana-Ulu village, Venilale, and it was here that they decided to construct a cave to be used as storage facility for their war equipment. They marshaled not only local residents but also those in other districts. The Japanese used forced labour and created a weekly roster system. In the end, they managed to construct a total of seven caves (which became the name of the area).*

In August 1945, shortly after the bombing of Nagasaki, Japan was forced to leave the island and abandoned Gua Tujuh. Thus Venilale and the rest of East Timor were recolonised once again by Portugal.

Decades later, after the withdrawal of Portugal at the end of 1975, Venilale became the background of the battles between pro independent faction (ASDT, which eventually formed Fretilin) versus pro autonomy faction (UDT), with Gua Tuju served a strategic place of interest. As East Timor increasingly looked towards gaining full independence and the third faction, APODETI, which desired for full integration into Indonesia considerably weakened, Indonesia carried out an invasion and made their way to Venilale. For three months, the guerillas managed to hold off the Indonesians from crossing through to other parts of East Timor. But they eventually had to concede defeat, and Indonesian military immediately forced their way through the rest of the country. Gua Tujuh, then, was secured under Indonesian rule.

Today, Gua Tujuh serves as a historical site widely known to East Timorese. It is now largely abandoned but still received a number of visitors who happen to be in the area. To some residents, the caves have garnered a mythical status due its historical significance and its eerie silence. And to some other, there is a wish for the maintenance of the caves, and perhaps turning them into a tourist attraction

* Gua Tujuh means Seven Caves in Bahasa Indonesia.



One Response to “Episode 3: Gua Tujuh, Venilale Subdistrict”

  1. all 3 says:

    Wonderful ideas

Leave a Reply