The region of Nusa Tenggara has always been, and remains, remote. Before the 15th century, virtually the only external contact these islands had were sporadic visits from Chinese and Arab traders in search of sandalwood, spices and tortoiseshell. In 1512 the Portuguese first landed in (and named) Flores; they also named Timor and Solor and brought Christianity to all three islands soon after their arrival.
The Dutch began to muscle in on the region in the 17th century, taking control of Kupang in 1653 and later shunting the Portuguese off to East Timor. But, with few resources to tempt them, they devoted little attention to Nusa Tenggara, only really establishing firm control over the area in the 20th century by forming alliances with tribal rajahs.
Little changed after WWII, the vast majority of people continuing to make a living from fishing or subsistence farming. Periodic droughts could be devastating: famine killed an estimated 50, 000 in Lombok in 1966, provoking the government to implement a transmigrasi programme that moved thousands of families from the island to other parts of the nation.
Today there remains very little industry in the region (apart from a colossal mine in Sumbawa), and many Nusa Tenggarans are forced to move to Java, Bali or Malaysia in search of work. It’s also quite common for women to work as maids in the Gulf states, Singapore and Hong Kong. The potential for tourism remains vast, but, due to political instability, poor infrastructure and transport links, and low educational standards, Nusa Tenggara looks unlikely to profit much from this sector for some time yet.