Culture of East Timor

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Campaigning for reading in Timor-Leste.

The Culture of East Timor reflects numerous cultural influences, including Portuguese, Roman Catholic and Malay, on the indigenous Austronesian cultures in East Timor.


Easily the most famous East Timorese author is Xanana Gusmão, the leader of the Timorese resistance organization Fretilin, and former Prime Minister of independent East Timor. He wrote two books during the struggle for independence. Also a poet and painter, he produced works describing the culture, values, and skills of the Timorese people.

Other important writers of Timor include: Luís Cardoso, Fernando Sylvan, Ponte Pedrinha, Jorge Barros Duarte, Crisódio Araujo, Jorge Lauten, Francisco Borja da Costa, Afonso Busa Metan and Fitun Fuik.



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. This was for several reasons: Indonesia was predominantly Muslim; the Indonesian state required adherence to one of five officially recognised religions and did not recognise traditional beliefs; and because the Catholic Church, which remained directly responsible to the Vatican throughout Indonesian rule, became a refuge for East Timorese seeking sanctuary from persecution.

The 'Apostolic Administrator' (de facto Bishop) of the Diocese of Dili, Monsignor Martinho da Costa Lopes, began speaking out against human rights abuses by the Indonesian security forces, including rape, torture, murder, and disappearances. Following pressure from Jakarta, he stepped down in 1983 and was replaced by the younger priest, Monsignor Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, who Indonesia thought would be more loyal. However, he too began speaking out, not only against human rights abuses, but the issue of self-determination, writing an open letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations, calling for a referendum. In 1996 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with exiled leader José Ramos-Horta, now the country's President.

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.

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


East Timor has joined many international sport associations, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC board has granted full recognition to the East Timorese Olympic Committee (COTL). The IOC had allowed a mainly symbolic four-member team to take part in the 2000 Sydney Games under the Olympic flag as "Independent Olympic Athletes." The Federação de Timor-Leste de Atletismo has joined the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). The Federação de Badminton de Timor-Leste joined the International Badminton Federation (IBF) in April 2003. The East Timor Cycling Federation has joined the Union Cycliste Internationale. The Confederação do Desporto de Timor Leste has joined the International Weightlifting Federation. East Timor is also a full member of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF). In September 2005, East Timor's national football team joined FIFA.

East Timor has taken part in several sporting events. Although the athletes came back with no medals, East Timorese athletes had the opportunity to compete with other Southeast Asian athletes in the 2003 Southeast Asian Games held in Vietnam in 2003. In the 2003 ASEAN Paralympics Games, also held in Vietnam, East Timor won a bronze medal. In the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, six athletes participated in three sports: athletics, weightlifting and boxing. East Timor won three medals in Arnis at the 2005 Southeast Asian Games. East Timor was also one of the competing nations in the first Lusophony Games, winning a bronze medal in the women's volleyball competition (finishing third out of three teams), despite the fact the team had lost all its three games. On October 30, 2008, East Timor earned their first international points in a FIFA match with a 2–2 draw against Cambodia.[1]


An extensive collection of Timorese audiovisual material is held at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. These holdings have been identified in a document titled The NFSA Timor-Leste Collection Profile, which features catalogue entries and essays for a total of 795 NFSA-held moving image, recorded sound and documentation works that have captured the history and culture of Timor-Leste since the early 20th century.[2] The NFSA is working with the Timor-Leste government to ensure that all of this material can be used and accessed by the people of that country.[3]


The cuisine of East Timor consists of regional popular foods such as pork, fish, basil, tamarind, legumes, corn, rice, root vegetables, and tropical fruit. East Timorese cuisine has influences from Southeast Asian foods and from Portuguese dishes from its colonisation by Portugal. Flavours and ingredients from other former Portuguese colonies can be found due to the presence of Portuguese soldiers from other colonies in East Timor.

Public holidays

East Timor now has public holidays that commemorate historic events in the liberation struggle, as well as those associated with Catholicism and Islam. They are defined in Timor-Leste Law no. 10/2005 PDF (16.7 KB).

Date (Gregorian calendar) Date (Islamic calendar) Name Notes
1 January New Year's Day Celebrates beginning of the Gregorian year. Festivities include counting down to midnight at 00:00 on the preceding night of the New Year's Eve with fireworks display and party.
10 Dzulhijah Idul Adha Date varies according to the Islamic calendar. The holiday commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ismael as an act of obedience to Allah.
March–April Good Friday This is the Friday before Easter Sunday, which is the first Sunday after the first Paschal Full Moon following the official vernal equinox. This Christian holiday commemorates the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
1 May Labour Day Celebrates the economic and social achievements of workers.
20 May Independence Restoration Day Independence from the Republic of Indonesia in 2002.
May–June Corpus Christi
30 August Popular Consultation Day Anniversary of the Popular Consultation in 1999.
1 November All Saints' Day
2 November All Souls' Day
12 November National Youth Day Anniversary of the Santa Cruz massacre in 1991.
28 November Proclamation of Independence Day Independence from the Republic of Portugal in 1975.
1-2 Syawal Idul Fitri Date varies according to the Islamic calendar. Celebrates the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
7 December National Heroes' Day Anniversary of Indonesian invasion of East Timor, 1975
8 December Immaculate Conception
24 December Christmas Eve Day before Christmas Day; officially almost every business closes early though a few remain open 24 hours daily.
25 December Christmas Day This Christian holiday celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.
31 December New Year's Eve Final day of the Gregorian year.


External links