Atoni - Orientation

Identification. Atoni live in the central mountainous part of western Timor, Indonesia, bounded to the east by the Tetum and to the west by the sea or by Rotinese and other immigrant lowland groups around Kupang Bay and Kupang City, the capital of the Province of the Eastern Lesser Sundas (Propinsi Nusa Tenggara Timur). Atoni have been Indonesian citizens since 1949, when the Republic of Indonesia succeeded the Netherlands East-Indies. Atoni wholly occupy the two administrative districts of North-Central Timor and South-Central Timor, part of Kupang District, and the former Portuguese enclave of Oe-cussi in West Timor, claimed and occupied by Indonesia since 1975 though not recognized by the United Nations. The name "Atoni" means "man, person" and is short for "Atoin Pah Meto" (People of the Dry Land) or "Atoin Meto" (Dry People) ("Atoin" being "Atoni" in metathesis). Europeans called them "Timorese," and Indonesians of Kupang may refer to them as "Orang Timor Asli" (Native Timorese) in contrast to immigrant Rotinese, Savunese, and other settlers around Kupang who come from nearby islands.

Location. Atoni are found at approximately 9 o00 ' to 10° 15′ S and 123°30′ to 124°30′ E in mountainous central regions and rarely by the malarial coasts with their poor soils. Timor is mountainous throughout with only modest coastal lowlands and few river plains. The climate is marked by an intense westerly monsoon rainy season (January to April) and a long easterly monsoon dry season (May to December) when only modest localized rains may occur. Large rocky hills and some natural savannas mark the west Timor landscape.

Demography. Census counts are not accurate, but Atoni are estimated to number about 750,000 and are the largest ethnic group in western Timor.

Linguistic Affiliation. Atoni speak an Austronesian language of the Timor Group that is not mutually intelligible with languages of their neighbors on the island or nearby islands. No written language is used, although some church books were prepared before World War II by a Dutch linguist in a romanized script. The Indonesian national language is now used in town offices, businesses, town and rural schools, the media, and some churches; a related dialect, Kupang Malay, was used by traders for centuries.

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