Geography, Costume & Culture of Timor Leste

The culture of East Timor reflects numerous cultural influences, including Portuguese, Roman Catholic and Malay, on the indigenous Austronesian cultures of Timor. Legend tells that a giant crocodile was transformed into the island of Timor, or Crocodile Island, as it is often called. For example, East Timorese creation myth has it that an aging crocodile transformed into the island of Timor as part of a debt repayment to a young boy who had helped the crocodile when it was sick. As a result of that transformation, the island is shaped like a crocodile and the boy’s descendants are the native East Timorese who inhabit the island.Like Indonesia, the culture of East Timor has been heavily influenced by Austronesian legends, although the Catholic influence is stronger, the population being mainly Roman Catholic.

In terms of architecture there are still Portuguese-style buildings which sit alongside the traditional totem houses of the eastern region. The totem houses are known as uma lulik (sacred houses) in Tetum. Mere information here

East Timor’s music reflects its history under the control of both Portugal and Indonesia, who have imported music like gamelan and fado. The most widespread form of native folk music was the likurai dance, performed to by women to welcome home men after war. They used a small drum and sometimes carried enemy heads in processions through villages; a modern version of the dance is used by women in courtship.

In the modern era, Timorese music has been closely associated with the independence movement; for example, the band Dili All Stars released a song that became an anthem in the build-up to the referendum on independence in 2000, while the United Nations commissioned a song called “Hakotu Ba” (by Lahane) to encourage people to register to vote in the referendum.

East Timorese popular musicians include Teo Batiste Ximenes, who grew up in Australia and uses folk rhythms from his homeland in his music. With many East Timorese people in emigrant communities in Australia, Portugal and elsewhere, East Timorese folk music has been brought to many places around the world. Refugee camps in Portugal mixed together East Timorese music with styles from other Portuguese colonies like Angola and Mozambique.

The guitar has long been an important part of East Timorese musc, though it is an import brought by colonizers; there, however, native kinds of string instruments similar in some ways to the guitar. Foreign influences also include popular styles of music like rock and roll, hip hop and reggae.

East Timor has been nominally Catholic since early in the Portuguese colonial period. The Catholic faith became a central part of East Timorese culture during the Indonesian occupation between 1975 and 1999. While under Portuguese rule, the East Timorese had mostly been animist, sometimes integrated with minimal Catholic ritual, the number of Catholics dramatically increased under Indonesian rule.In spite of accusations by the Suharto regime that East Timor’s independence movement, Fretilin, was communist, many of its leaders had trained to be priests, and their philosophy probably owed more to the Catholic liberation theology of Latin America than to Marxism.

Around 97% of the East Timorese population is Catholic, 2% Protestant, 0.3% Muslim, 0.5% have other religious beliefs. Indigenous religions revolve around an earth mother, from whom all humans are born and to whom they return after death, and her male counterpart, the god of the sky or sun. These are accompanied by a complex world of ancestor, nature and evil spirits.

However, in spite of the majority of the country’s people now being Catholics, there is freedom of religion in the new republic, and the Prime Minister Marí Alkatiri, is a Muslim of Yemeni descent.




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