East Timor

Flag of East Timor

Language: Tetum, Portuguese

Currency: US dollar (USD)

Calling Code: +670


East Timor, whose official name is the Democratic Republic of East Timor (in Portuguese: Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, in Tetun: Republika Demokratika Timor Lorosa'e) is a Southeast Asian country. Island of Timor, the nearby islands of Atauro and Jaco and the exclave of Oecusse (Oecussi-Ambeno), surrounded by territory of the Indonesian region of West Timor. In total the country has a territory of  14 874 km2 and a population of more than 1 million one hundred thousand inhabitants.

The territory of the current East Timor was colonized by Portugal in the sixteenth century and became known as Portuguese Timor. The colony declared its independence in 1975, but a few days later it was invaded and occupied by troops from neighboring Indonesia, a country that turned the territory into its 27th province. In 1999, after an act of self-determination in East Timor, sponsored by the UN, Indonesia abandoned the former Portuguese colony and East Timor became on May 20, 2002 the first sovereign state that was born in the XXI century. After its independence, the nation became a member of the United Nations and of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries. In addition, East Timor is one of only two Asian countries whose main religion is Catholicism (the other is the Philippines).

East Timor has a middle-income economy. In 2014 GDP per capita was $ 5,479 according to World Bank data. Nearly 40% of its inhabitants live below the poverty line, that is, they subsist on less than $ 1.25 per day, 6 and about half of the population is illiterate, and East Timor still suffers the consequences of the struggle against the Indonesian occupation that lasted for decades, leaving damage to the country's infrastructure as well as the death of around one hundred thousand people. Although the country now has an average human development index (previously low), it is expected that the percentage growth of its economy will be among the highest in the world in the coming years, East Timor is the only country in Asia whose language is official the Portuguese.


Travel Destination in East Timor

 Atauro Island is located on the extinct Wetar segment of the volcanic Inner Banda Arc in East Timor.



The internationally official Portuguese country name Timor-Leste literally means 'Timor East'. In the official language Tetum, the country is called Timór Loro Sa'e, which also means 'East Timor' (literally 'Timor of the rising sun', whereby the rising sun in this language stands for the direction east). Recently you can also find official documents in which the country's name in Tetum is Timór-Leste. If one takes into account that the Indonesian word timur also means 'east' and the name of the island of Timor is derived from it, the literal meaning would be 'east of the east' or 'east of the east island'. The province name Timor Timur, used during the Indonesian occupation, also means 'East Timor'.

East Timorese authorities emphasize that the country's name is not translated into foreign languages, mainly in an effort to avoid using the term Timor Timur (TimTim for short) in Indonesian, which has negative, historical connotations. Since independence, the official country name in international usage (as maintained, for example, by organizations such as the UN, ILO, EU) has been adopted untranslated in the Portuguese form Timor-Leste in practically all common working languages. It is now also used in official language in German-speaking countries (at least in interstate correspondence).

The name of the inhabitants and the adjective derived from the country name are not used consistently. Inhabitants are referred to as Timorese/Timoresin or, less frequently, as Timorese/Timorerin, although the female forms hardly appear even in large corpora. However, the adjective Timorese is significantly more common than the competing Timorese. The forms Timorese/Timoresin and Timorese, which are derived from Portuguese, are also mostly found in specialist literature, as well as on websites of interest groups that deal with the country in the German-speaking area. While the German official bodies previously recommended East Timorese or East Timorese (list of state names 2002), the German Foreign Office and the Standing Committee on Geographical Names have no longer published any guidelines for this since the official language was changed from East Timor to Timor-Leste Name of the inhabitants or for the adjective. The Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs recommends Timorese as the resident name and Timorese as the adjective.

Since the 1970s, some of the population has been ethnically referred to as Maubere. This name was previously a name for the Mambai ethnic group, then a derogatory word for the rural population in the colonial period, until it became a collective name for the East Timorese in the national movement. Even today it is used again and again in the country, rarely in official language (only once in the constitution) or in international language communication. The negative undertone has now disappeared. Some parties also use the term in their name, such as the Movimentu Libertasaun ba Povu Maubere (MLPM).

When independence was first proclaimed in 1975, there were voices who preferred to name the country “Timor-Dili” after its capital. However, this proposal did not prevail.



Small empires and foreign rule

The oldest traces of human settlement on the island were found in 2017 in the Laili cave near Laleia, in the north of East Timor. They are at least 43,000 to 44,000 years old. In addition to stone tools, the oldest known fishing hook in the world and mussel shells used as jewelry, the remains of turtles, tuna and giant rats that had served as food for the cave dwellers were found in the Jerimalai limestone cave near Tutuala. The finds also demonstrated for the first time that people were fishing in the deep sea 42,000 years ago. These finds support the theory that Australia was settled via the Lesser Sunda Islands.

From 40,000 BC In the 4th century BC, Timor was settled in at least three further waves by Austronesians, Melanesians and Proto-Malays. According to reports from the Portuguese, the island was divided into three loose dominions, which in turn fragmented into numerous small empires, whose rulers were called Liurais. Marriage and alliance politics formed a network that connected practically the entire island, but this did not prevent constant conflicts and fights between the empires well into the 20th century. The Portuguese landed on Timor for the first time in 1515 and founded Lifau, the first settlement in their colony of Portuguese Timor, in 1556, whose final borders with the Dutch part of the island were not determined until 1916. Until the beginning of the 20th century, both colonial powers were still dependent on traditional power structures to administer their territories. There were constant uprisings against the Europeans. The largest rebellion against the Portuguese took place in Boaventura of Manufahi in 1912.

Japanese troops occupied the entire island from 1942 to 1945, although Portugal was a neutral country during World War II. The result was a guerrilla war waged by Allied troops against the Japanese on the island, which became known as the Battle of Timor. Timorese also fought on both sides. Between 40,000 and 70,000 people died in Portuguese Timor alone. After the end of the World War, Indonesia gained its independence from the Dutch colonial power. West Timor became part of the new state, while East Timor only received the new status of a Portuguese overseas province in 1951.

It was not until 1974 that the Carnation Revolution in Portugal changed the political situation. In 1975 the colony was supposed to be prepared for independence, but a civil war broke out between the two largest parties, FRETILIN and UDT, from which FRETILIN emerged victorious. It proclaimed independence on November 28, 1975, but just nine days later Indonesia began openly occupying the country with Operation Seroja, formally making it its 27th province of Timor Timur in 1976, despite international condemnation. Between 1977 and 1979, around a third of East Timor's inhabitants died of hunger, epidemics, fighting against the occupiers and their actions. After a 1999 referendum that favored independence and resulted in further violence by pro-Indonesian militias (Wanra) and the Indonesian army, the United Nations deployed the Australian-led peacekeeping force INTERFET. East Timor came under UNTAET administration until it finally gained independence on May 20, 2002. On September 27, 2002, East Timor became the 191st member of the United Nations.


Since independence

From late April to late May 2006, East Timor experienced severe unrest. 37 people died and 155,000 fled. The starting point for this was the dismissal of around 40% of the army personnel who deserted in protest against abuses in East Timor's defense forces at the beginning of the year. Over 3,000 soldiers (International Stabilization Force ISF) were sent to East Timor from various countries to stabilize the situation again. Prime Minister Marí Alkatiri resigned on June 26. By March 2011, the UNMIT (UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste), together with the foreign ISF troops, took over the task of maintaining order in the country. UNMIT's mandate was extended until December 31, 2012. Until then, it supported the East Timorese National Police (PNTL) and also contributed to security in the 2012 elections.

The first new elections after the restoration of independence in 2007 resulted in a loss of power for FRETILIN. The independent José Ramos-Horta prevailed against the FRETILIN candidate in the runoff election for the presidency. A four-party coalition managed to win a majority in parliament and install Xanana Gusmão as prime minister. Although FRETILIN was the strongest party in parliament, it was unable to find coalition partners. FRETILIN saw the fact that it was not the strongest force in the government as a violation of the constitution, but it refrained from initial threats to boycott parliament or take the matter to the Supreme Court.

In the same year, the leader of the soldiers who mutinied in 2006, Alfredo Reinado, escaped with 56 loyal followers from a prison where they were being held for illegal possession of weapons and suspected murder during the May riots. In 2007, the situation escalated around the fugitives hiding in the mountains of Manufahi and Ermera. During an attack on two border police posts, they stole 23 weapons, some of them heavy. President Gusmão authorized the ISF to arrest Reinado and also asked Indonesia for assistance. An attempt to gain access by Australian special forces in March 2007 failed. Reinado repeatedly threatened the government with civil war and attacks on Dili.

On February 11, 2008, a shootout broke out between Reinado, some of his men and the security forces in President Ramos-Horta's home. Ramos-Horta and one of his bodyguards were seriously injured, Reinado and another rebel were killed. Shortly afterwards, Prime Minister Gusmão's car was shot at. He escaped the attack but unharmed. Gusmão declared the attempted coup a failure. President Ramos-Horta returned to office in April after receiving medical treatment in Darwin. The rebel movement finally collapsed shortly after the attacks.

In the following years, the political situation stabilized significantly, even if the major parties appeared to be sometimes irreconcilable and the institutions sometimes blocked each other in party-political power struggles. In December 2012, the last soldiers and police officers from ISF and UNMIT were farewelled. In 2008, 75% of East Timorese residents said they were satisfied with the work of the UN, while 3% found it to be bad.[94] In 2015 there was another incident with the KRM, in which the army quickly restored peace and order. East Timor was able to prevail in court in the border disputes with Australia. On April 4, 2021, severe flooding occurred, resulting in dozens of deaths. It was the worst natural disaster in East Timor since the Portuguese colonial era.



The island of Timor belongs to the eastern part of the Malay Archipelago and is one of the Lesser Sunda Islands. In the northwest of the mountainous island lies the Sawu Sea, to the north the Banda Sea, and to the south the Timor Sea extends 500 km to Australia. The Timorese call the rough Timor Sea Tasi Mane, the Sea of Men, while the calm waters north of the island are referred to as Tasi Feto, the Sea of Women. Just five kilometers from the north coast, the seabed drops to a depth of 1000 m. During the Cold War, American nuclear submarines were therefore able to pass through the Ombai and Wetar Straits undetected. In the Timor Sea, the narrow Timor Trench stretches south of the island with a depth of up to 3300 m.

East Timor is the only country in Asia whose territory lies entirely south of the equator. It includes not only the eastern half of Timor, but also the exclave Oe-Cusse Ambeno, located on the northern coast of the Indonesian part of the island, as well as the two small islands of Atauro, north of the capital Dili, and Jaco at the eastern tip. With a total area of 14,918.72 km², East Timor is slightly smaller than Schleswig-Holstein or Styria. The main landmass is 260 km long and up to 80 km wide. With the exclave and the associated islands, the maximum east-west extent is 364 km, the maximum north-south extent is 149 km. East Timor's coastline is 783 km long. It is surrounded by coral reefs.

The land border with Indonesia is a total of 228 km long, the course of which has been largely clarified with Indonesia since 2019. Negotiations over the maritime borders between the two states have been ongoing since 2015. The affiliation of Naktuka (Citrana Triangle) and the island of Fatu Sinai are still controversial.

Timor lies on the outer edge of the so-called Banda Arc, which is part of an extension of the Pacific Ring of Fire and forms a chain of islands around the Banda Sea. In an oceanic subduction zone, the northwest corner of the Australian plate pushes under the Eurasian plate. This leads, among other things, to the growth of the mountain range on Timor, which, as a central mountainous region, runs through almost the entire island from southwest to northeast into the Turiscai region. Its peak is East Timor's highest mountain, Tatamailau (2963 m). Further east lie isolated mountains such as the Curi (1763 m), the Monte Mundo Perdido (1332 m) and the Matebian (2376 m). The Paitchau mountain range (995 m) runs along the southern coast of the eastern tip of Timor. Some areas in East Timor are rising between 1 and 1.6 mm per year. 32.1% of the country's area is at an altitude between 500 and 1500 m, 2.6% above 1500 m. Geologically speaking, East Timor is still very young, as it was only raised out of the sea in the last four million years. Due to geological activity, there is a constant risk of earthquakes and tsunamis. In Dili, tremors from earthquakes around Timor are repeatedly felt, but so far they have not caused any significant damage. The northeast of the Oe-Cusse Ambeno exclave forms the youngest and wildest surface structure on the entire island. It is of volcanic origin and reaches a height of 1259 m with the Sapu (Fatu Nipane). The island of Atauro was also created by volcanism. There are no longer any active volcanoes in East Timor. However, there are mud volcanoes and hot springs in various places. Volcanic gases escape from the seabed at the so-called Bubble Beach (Suco Lauhata).

In the north the mountains drop steeply into the sea. Characteristic coastal terraces and some striking plateaus with a height of 400 to 700 m, such as those in Baucau, characterize the picture. Terraces and plateaus were created from corals. The mountainous interior is dissected by valleys. Alluvium can be found between Lautém and Baucau. Larger areas are the plains of Batugade, Metinaro, Dili, Manatuto, Com and the Lóis River. On the south coast there are vast coastal plains three to ten kilometers wide, characterized by seasonal swamps, swampy forests and areas with tall grass growth.[20] They extend from the national border to Viqueque and then narrower to Lore. The largest are the Alas plain with the southern Lacló river, the Kicras plain with the Sáhen river (Sahe), the Luca plain with the Dilor river and the Bibiluto plain. On the border with West Timor lies the flat plateau of Maliana, which was formerly a bay. The most striking plateau in East Timor is the Fuiloro Plateau in the municipality of Lautém. Towards the south it drops imperceptibly from a height of 700 m to 500 m due to its large area. Originally the plateau was the lagoon of a primeval atoll. Three other plateaus surround the Fuiloro plateau: the plateaus of Nári in the north, Lospalos in the west and Rere in the south.

Cities in East Timor with over 10,000 inhabitants are (as of 2022) Dili (267,623 inhabitants), Baucau (19,118), Pante Macassar (15,240), Maliana (13,078), Lospalos (12,782), Gleno (12,546) and Suai (10,660).


Inland waters

The waters of East Timor are still poorly explored. There is some controversy over their naming, as the waters have been given different names in the different regions through which they flow. Almost all of East Timor's rivers originate in the central mountains and flow north or south due to the steep gradient. The rivers form a dense hydrographic network in the central area of the island. As with many small islands with strong elevations, these consist almost entirely of streams that are rather short, winding and fast-flowing. However, these streams are dry most of the year.

Intense rainfall during the rainy season leads to the formation of torrents and thus to severe erosion of the soil. However, when the rain ends, the level of the streams drops again, making them easy to wade through. With the return of the dry winds blowing from Australia, only thin trickles remain in wide riverbeds full of rubbish and debris, which are widening every year. The annual floods, which can last for several months, also hinder the movement of goods between the fertile plains in the south and the rest of the country. There are efforts to use planting to limit bank erosion and thus reduce the destructive potential of streams. None of East Timor's rivers are navigable. Strictly speaking, there are only rivers that carry water all year round in the south of East Timor. The reason for this is the longer rainy season compared to the north. Rivers that carry water all year round in the north are fed from the south. This is the case of the northern Lacló, which forms the largest hydrographic basin in East Timor, the Seiçal in the municipality of Baucau and the Lóis, the longest river in East Timor at 80 km, which flows into Maubara. Flowing south, Irebere (Irabere), Bebui, Dilor, Tafara, Belulik (Bé-lulic), Caraulun (Carau-úlun, Karau Ulun), Southern Lacló and Clerec carry water all year round. The main river of the Oe-Cusse Ambeno exclave, the Tono (Nuno-eno), flows into the sea west of Pante Macassar. In some permanent rivers along the southern coast, strong tides cause sand to accumulate at the river mouths, increasingly blocking drainage and leading to marshland formation.

The largest lake in East Timor is Ira Lalaro (also Suro-bec) in the municipality of Lautém. It is 6.5 km long and 3 km wide. Other inland waters include Lake Maubara, Lago Seloi and the Tasitol Lakes. A special charm of the mountainous landscape is the many waterfalls, the best known being the Bandeira waterfall near Atsabe.



The local climate is tropical, generally hot and humid, and characterized by a distinct wet and dry season. During the eastern monsoon between May and November there is often persistent drought, with practically no rain reaching the north coast and the brown landscape is parched. During these droughts, agriculture comes to a standstill. The cooler mountainous regions in the center of the island and the south coast receive occasional rain in the dry season, so the landscape here remains green. The rainy season lasts from late November to April. During this time the fields are cultivated again. The harvest season follows the end of the rainy season. With the rain often comes flooding; the dry riverbeds can fill up in a very short time and swell into large streams that carry away earth and debris and disrupt roads. On April 4, 2021, heavy rain caused major damage across almost the entire country. Almost the entire capital, Dili, was flooded. It was the largest natural disaster in East Timor in over 40 years.

Dili has an average annual rainfall of 840 mm; Most of the rain falls from December to March. In contrast, the city of Manatuto, located east of Dili, receives an average of only 565 mm annual rainfall. The south coast of East Timor is rainier with 1500 to 2000 mm annual rainfall; most rain falls on the mid-south coast and southern mountains. However, the mountains often create a special local microclimate, which means that the town of Lolotoe in the municipality of Bobonaro, for example, has the highest annual rainfall in East Timor at 2837 mm. There are also very strong differences in the amount of precipitation over the years (see table for Dili).

The temperature in the dry season is around 30 to 35 °C in the lowlands (20 °C at night). At the end of the dry season, parts of the north coast reach temperatures of over 35 °C, although with low humidity and almost no rainfall. In the mountains it is also warm to hot during the day, but at night the temperature can drop to below 15 °C, and significantly lower at higher altitudes. At an altitude of 500 m the annual average temperature is 24 °C, at 1000 m it is 21 °C, at 1500 m it is 18 °C and at 2000 m it is 14 °C. On average, the wind in Dili blows weakest in May at 7 km/h and strongest in August at 12 km/h.


Fauna and Flora

The island of Timor belongs to Wallacea, an area of the biogeographical transition zone between the Asian and Australian flora and fauna. However, there are only a few Australian species, such as the gray cuscus. The few mammal species on Timor, such as the maned deer, musangs, species of the taxa flying foxes, shrews and monkeys, as well as birds and insects, resemble common Malayan phenotypes. However, 23 bird species only occur in the Timor and Wetar Endemic Bird Area, which makes East Timor particularly interesting for ornithologists. The total of around 240 bird species include numerous species of parrots as well as amadines, cockatoos and pigeons. Dugongs and blue whales can be found off the north coast, sperm whales and other marine mammals regularly pass directly in front of Dili.

East Timor can only boast a few frog species from the amphibian class, most of which are not endemic and are therefore only limited to Timor. Reptiles also enrich Timor's wildlife, such as the Timorese monitor lizard (Varanus timorensis), which is named after the island, the Timorese water python (Liasis macloti) and the sea-dwelling Timor reef snake (Aipysurus fuscus). The Timor tortoise, which lives on the eastern tip of the island and was only discovered in 2007, is endemic and is partly seen as a subspecies of McCord's snake-necked turtle (Chelodina mccordi) and partly as its own species Chelodina timorensis.

The saltwater crocodile, which lives in the sea and rivers and is called the “grandfather crocodile”, has a special cultural significance. According to legend, the island of Timor was created from a crocodile. CrocBITE, Charles Darwin University's crocodile attack database, recorded 15 fatal and five additional attacks on humans in East Timor between 2007 and 2016 alone. Pets are also being killed more and more often, which is why a Crocodile Task Force made up of ten men was set up in 2010.

Endemic freshwater fish in the rivers of Timor are the Oryzias timorensis, which is only four centimeters long, from the rice fish family (Adrianichthyidae) and Craterocephalus laisapi from the hardhead genus. Quite a few species in East Timor tend to live in the brackish water of estuaries and mangroves, including those from the families of the catfish (Ariidae), the gobies (Gobiidae), the archerfish (Toxotidae) and Kuhlia mugil from the flagtail family (Kuhlia). The carp, the African catfish and the toothfish guppy, goblin carp and panchax were introduced by humans. The waters around Timor are part of the so-called Coral Triangle, a region with the greatest biodiversity of corals and reef fish in the world. The reefs around the island of Atauro provide the peak value for fish. Up to 314 species were discovered in individual locations in 2016, a value that is never exceeded anywhere in the world. A total of 643 fish species have been identified around Atauro, several of which have not even been scientifically described.

It is estimated that there are around 2,500 plant species in East Timor. East Timor's vegetation consists mainly of secondary forest, savannas and grasslands. There are mostly species from the casuarina family, the eucalyptus genus, the sappan wood genus, sandalwood (tetum Ai-kameli) and palmyra palms (lontar palms). The area of East Timor's original primary forest has shrunk to 220,000 hectares, or one percent of the territory. Dense forest can only be found in the south of the country and in the mountainous regions. Mangrove forests only cover about 7,500 hectares of East Timor because, unlike other islands in the archipelago, there are few bulges in the coastline. These are mainly found on the north coast where the sea is calmer. For example, mangrove forests can be found near Metinaro, Tibar and Maubara. On the south coast, mangroves do not extend much further than the estuaries and marshy terrain. In total, 61.9% of the country's area is forested.




At the beginning of 2006, East Timor had almost 950,000 inhabitants, the 2022 census brought a result of 1,341,737 inhabitants, 383,416 people live in urban areas and 958,321 in rural areas. They live in 250,270 households, which means an average of 5.4 people live in one household. In 2015 the average was 5.7.

Population development in the 20th century shows noticeable fluctuations, particularly due to war. Before the Second World War, around 450,000 people lived in what was then a Portuguese colony. 40,000 to 70,000 Timorese lost their lives in the war. At the last Portuguese census in 1970 there were 609,477 inhabitants. Between 1974 and 1999, 183,000 people died as a result of the Indonesian invasion in 1975, the guerrilla war and reprisals by the occupying power. Many also fled the country, particularly in the immediate aftermath of the invasion and in the 1990s, culminating in the 1999 expulsions, which ultimately led to intervention by the international community. At that time, three quarters of the population were refugees. Around 280,000 East Timorese were forcibly deported from Indonesia to West Timor or had sought refuge there.

Annual population growth is 1.8% (2022, 2004: 3.2%), making it the highest of all countries in the region. The municipality of Dili has an annual growth rate of 2.7% thanks to influx from the other regions, so the capital's population doubles every 25 years. Oe-Cusse Ambeno (2.3%), Liquiçá (2.2%) and Ainaro (2.1%) also have over 2% growth. Viqueque has the lowest population growth at 0.8%. The fertility rate has fallen in recent years from 6.9 (2004) to 5.7 (2011). The average was 4.9 in the city and 5.9 in the countryside.

The proportion of the population under the age of 15 is 35% and 65 years or older is 6% of the population (2022). In 2011, for every 100 people of working age between 15 and 64, there were 81 children under 15 and 9.6 people over 64. Life expectancy was 60.2 years in 2006, in 2020 it was 70.3 years for women and 66 for men. 8th. The average age was 18.4 years in 2011, but has increased to 21 years by 2023 due to a decline in the birth rate. The proportion of the urban population is 29.6% (2010, 2007:27%). In 2022, there were statistically 103 men for every 100 women. In the 2022 census, “other” was introduced as an additional gender option, but since this option was not used in the surveys, the statistics could not provide information on how many East Timorese see themselves as neither men nor women.

In 2022, 17.5% of East Timor's residents did not live in the municipality in which they were born. The capital municipality of Dili alone has recorded an increase in population due to internal migration, while Baucau, Viqueque, Lautém and Bobonaro in particular recorded large outflows.

10,484 Timorese were born abroad, including around 7,700 in Indonesia. The People's Republic of China (7.5%) and Portugal with its former colonies (8.2%) follow in terms of frequency as countries of birth. In 2022, 4,100 of East Timor's residents had foreign citizenship, including Indonesians, Chinese, Australians, Portuguese, Australians and others. (2011: 10,983).


Languages and ethnic groups

Timor was settled by at least three waves of immigrants (Veddo-Austronese, Melanesians and Malays), whose descendants make up the island's various indigenous peoples.

In the case of Timor, the scientific literature shows in a simplified way that the individual language groups each have their own culture and thus each form their own ethnic group. People define themselves through their language. There are around 16 ethnic groups in East Timor, twelve of which are larger tribal groups. They mostly speak Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian) languages and Papuan languages. The official languages are Portuguese and Tetum, the most widely spoken native language as a lingua franca. The 15 other languages of the native ethnic groups are recognized as national languages that are to be “valued and promoted” according to the constitution: these are Atauru, Baikeno, Bekais, Bunak, Fataluku, Galoli, Habun, Idalaka, Kawaimina, Kemak, Makuva, Makalero, Makasae, Mambai and Tokodede. English and Bahasa Indonesia are listed as working languages.

The Malayo-Polynesian Tetum, with around 433,000 members, are the largest ethnic group in East Timor. Other Malayo-Polynesian ethnic groups include the Mambai (196,000), the Kemak (69,000), the Tokodede (47,000) and the Galoli (16,000). The Baikeno in Oe-Cusse Ambeno (69,000) speak a Malayo-Polynesian language but are descended from the Veddo-Austronesian wave of immigrants. The speakers of the Papuan languages are of Melanesian origin: the Makasae (130,000), the Bunak (65,000), the Fataluku (42,000) and the Makalero (9,000).

Tetum was already the lingua franca of East Timor before the Portuguese colonial period. After East Timor was annexed by Indonesia, the Portuguese language was banned. However, the Catholic Church did not hold its masses in Bahasa Indonesia, but rather in Tetum from April 7, 1981, thus contributing to the development of the language and the formation of identity. 62.5% of the population can speak, read and write Tetum, another 1.3% can speak and read, 2.2% can only read and 25.7% can only speak.

While Tetum is widely spoken, only 30.8% of the population speak, read and write Portuguese. Another 2.4% can speak and read it, 24.5% can only read it and 3.1% can only speak it. Many teachers also speak no or very poor Portuguese. Because of these problems, lessons will be held in Tetum for the first three years and only then will Portuguese be gradually introduced.

There are also immigrants from more recent history, such as Chinese (mainly Hakka traders), Arabs and Portuguese. With the establishment of the steamship line between Macau and Dili at the turn of the century, immigration of Chinese to Portuguese Timor increased. Among the immigrants there were also many who fled China as opponents of the Chinese Manchu emperors. By 1912, the Chinese community was already well organized. There was a club building, its own school and a Buddhist temple. The Chinese population originally spoke Hakka, Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese. Before the Indonesian invasion in 1975, there was a large and vibrant Hakka community in East Timor. During the invasion, however, many Hakka died or fled to Australia. Today, most Timorese Hakka live in Darwin and other Australian cities such as Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. In East Timor, around 800 people still call Chinese their mother tongue. Former Prime Minister Marí Alkatiri, for example, is of Arab origin. His ancestors came to Timor from what is now Yemen at the end of the 19th century. Their language, Dili Malay, has almost disappeared.

A small part of the population is of mixed Portuguese-Timorese origin. In Portuguese, this population is called Mestiços (German: Mestizos). One of them is, for example, President José Ramos-Horta. There is also a small group of pure Portuguese. Around 1,400 East Timorese call Portuguese their mother tongue. Some immigrants from Indonesia also stayed in the country after East Timor's independence. However, Bahasa Indonesia has lost importance as a lingua franca, while English has gained thanks to the foreign UN soldiers. 36.6% of the population can speak, read and write Bahasa Indonesia, another 1.7% can speak and read, 17.6% can read only and 6.2% can only speak. 15.6% of the population can speak, read and write English, another 1.7% can speak and read, 19.8% can read only and 1.9% can only speak. About 2,700 residents speak Bahasa Indonesia as their native language and about 7,300 speak English as their native language. However, many courses are still taught in Bahasa Indonesia at the National University in Dili.

The occupation period gave rise to a strong East Timorese national feeling, but the unrest of 2006 brought back into public consciousness an ethnic division that existed before the colonial era. This division of the country into an eastern and a western part has a significant impact on everyday life in East Timor. The western population from Loro Munu is called Kaladi, the eastern population from Loro Sae is called Firaku. The east consists of the municipalities of Lautém, Baucau, Viqueque and Manatuto. Loro Munu consists of the municipalities of Dili, Aileu, Ainaro, Atauro, Manufahi, Ermera, Bobonaro, Cova Lima, Liquiçá and Oe-Cusse Ambeno.

The Firaku see themselves as those who defeated the Indonesian occupying power through their long resistance. The Firaku include important East Timorese military figures. The Firaku accuse the West of sympathizing with the Indonesians. Many of the police officers the Indonesians recruited were Kaladi. The United Nations and independent East Timor have taken most of these police officers into their service. The simmering conflict between police and military results from this. As a melting pot of the country's diverse ethnicities and groups, Dili is the scene of regular street fights between gangs from the East and the West. A separation can also be seen politically. While the eastern municipalities are the strongholds of the old independence party FRETILIN, the western part has a majority of parties that were only founded after the independence referendum.

Nevertheless, there are also numerous family relationships between the communities. The close connections between the individual tribes and ethnic groups through marriage have a long tradition that, even before colonization, connected the island and its rough division into a western, a central and an eastern region. The tribes on the western edge of Wehale's area of influence had simultaneous alliances with western Timor and Oe-Cusse Ambeno, the tribes in the east with eastern Timor and its centers Atsabe and Lospalos. In this way, from the perspective of many Timorese, the island formed a unity despite the different spheres of influence, which was only destroyed by the colonial division by the Dutch and Portuguese. But there are also reports of feuds and wars. The old relationships and family structures still have a significant influence on the country's politics today.



Almost all residents of East Timor are Christian. Over 97% reported being Catholic in the 2020 census; Protestants form a Christian minority (2.0%). Of these, around 17,000 belong to the Protestant Church in East Timor (IPTL). 0.26% of East Timorese are Muslims, mostly Sunnis. They are descendants of Arabs who immigrated in the 19th century and Javanese who settled during the occupation. The Annur Mosque in Dili is the largest mosque in the country. There are others in Baucau, Lospalos and Liquiçá. There are also minorities of Buddhists and Hindus. The Pura Girinatha in Dili is the largest of the few Hindu temples in the country; the Chinese minority has had a Buddhist temple, the Guandi Temple, for a hundred years. The traditional religion of Timor is only weakly represented (0.02%). However, animistic beliefs are still practiced in everyday life.

During Portuguese colonial rule, the Catholic faith was limited to the capital Dili and a few larger towns. The majority of the population were animists. Around 1975, the proportion of Catholics in the population was only around 30%. During the freedom struggle against Indonesia, however, the Catholic Church became a unifying force around the twelve larger tribal associations against the predominantly Muslim Indonesians. In no other country in the world has the Catholic Church achieved such great growth in recent decades.

She owes this, among other things, to the then Apostolic Administrator of the diocese of Dili, which was established in 1940, Martinho da Costa Lopes, who preached against the human rights violations of the Indonesians. In 1983 he had to resign under pressure from Jakarta and was replaced by Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo. But he also turned against the occupiers. In an open letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations, he called for a referendum on East Timor's independence. The Catholic Church received a further boost in 1989 with the visit of Pope John Paul II to East Timor. In 1996, Bishop Belo, together with José Ramos-Horta, received the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent advocacy for the freedom of East Timor. Although the FRETILIN liberation movement had communist traits, its leaders were strongly influenced by the Latin American liberation theology of Catholic priests.

The diocese of Baucau was established in 1996, followed in 2010 by the diocese of Maliana. Until 2019, all dioceses were directly subordinate to the Holy See under canon law. On September 11, 2019, Pope Francis established the ecclesiastical province of Dili by elevating the diocese of Dili to the rank of archdiocese, to which the dioceses of Baucau and Maliana were subordinated as suffragans. In 2002, for the independence celebrations, a statue of the Virgin Mary was shipped from Fátima (Portugal) to Dili and the land was consecrated to the Mother of God of Fátima. In May 2005, after weeks of protest marches, religious education was reintroduced into the curriculum as a compulsory subject in public schools. Prime Minister Alkatiri introduced a bill in February that would only allow the subject to be attended voluntarily.

East Timor is a secular state and there is freedom of religion according to the constitution. However, in his inaugural speech as Prime Minister in 2006, Ramos-Horta emphasized the importance of the Catholic Church as an element that unifies the country and reconciles between the various parties to the conflict. In a next step, in 2007 the government sent Justino Maria Aparício Guterres, the first ambassador permanently accredited to the Holy See, to further develop relations with the Vatican. An apostolic nuncio was also sent to East Timor. On August 14, 2015, a concordat was signed between East Timor and the Vatican to mark the 500th anniversary of the evangelization of Timor. It defines the areas in which the Catholic Church can act independently of the state, such as spiritual care in prisons, hospitals and orphanages and the running of its own schools at every level of education.

A number of movements, such as Colimau 2000 or the Sagrada Família, have quasi-religious characteristics. These groups use Christian and animistic elements and combine them with various martial arts. They each have a few hundred to a few thousand members. In recent years the interpretation has become established that the Timorese were already believers before the missionaries arrived. Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araújo stated in a 2015 speech:

“Christianity did not enter our culture and our history by being imposed by weapons (…) Christianity elevated, honored and enriched what was already pulsating in the nature of the Timorese people. In other words, Christianity found a people with a sense of God (Maromak) and a sense of the sacred (Lulik).”

This image was also taken up by the apostolic nuncio Joseph Salvador Marino in a speech in the same year, who declared that the Timorese had already known “the light of God” before the missionaries.


Women in East Timor

49.23% of East Timor's residents are women (2022). 24% of women are married before their 20th birthday. For men it is only 5%. They usually get married between the ages of 25 and 29. The husbands are usually seven to ten years older than their wives. In general, domestic violence is a big problem. The reasons for this can be found in the traumatic experiences of the residents during the Indonesian occupation. In 2008 alone, over 400 cases were registered, but the number of unreported cases is likely to far exceed this number. Studies by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in two of the country's then districts found that violence for Timorese women was "normal" and viewed as a private matter. In 2009, domestic violence was added to the Civil Code as a criminal offense, the first time ever in the country's history, as this was not the case even under Indonesian rule. On May 3, 2010, the National Parliament passed a law intended to provide legal assistance to victims of domestic violence.

Abortion law still follows old Indonesian law. Abortions are prohibited by law, even if there is a risk to the life of the mother, which is why illegal abortions are carried out without medical assistance. A new law based on Portuguese and Australian law is currently being planned. According to this, abortions should be allowed if the pregnancy endangers the woman's life. Initially, Catholic forces in politics, such as Fernanda Borges, spoke out against the law and criticized it as “Western influence”. But because abortions are still considered criminal outside of the exception, the Catholic Church later supported the new regulation. Contrary to initial plans, abortions for victims of sexual violence and incest will no longer be decriminalized.



Medical care is poor but is slowly improving. The diversity of languages in the country often leads to problems in communication between doctor and patient. In 2008 there were 302 medical facilities (2003: 218): six public hospitals (the two largest in Dili and Baucau), 66 community health centers, 189 medical stations and 41 private clinics (as of 2008). In 2010 there were 5.9 hospital beds per 1,000 inhabitants. The population receives free treatment in public facilities. There are an average of 0.8 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants (2020). In 2008 there were 0.3 doctors, along with 0.8 nurses and 0.3 midwives (2008). Until recently, there was a lack of local doctors in particular. In 2003, out of 40 doctors in the main hospitals in Dili and Baucau, only 10 were East Timorese. Thanks to a cooperation between Dili and Havana, 300 Cuban doctors were working in East Timor in 2007, 90% of all doctors in the country. 700 Timorese studied medicine in Cuba. At the end of 2012, there were 152 doctors in East Timor, including 13 specialists, 1,271 nurses, 427 midwives and 416 medical-technical assistants. In December 2012, an additional 400 East Timorese graduated as doctors after four years of studying in Cuba and two years in East Timor. Another 80 had already successfully completed their medical studies in 2010/11. In 2022 there were 1,200 doctors in East Timor. Two aircraft from Mission Aviation Fellowship Timor-Leste (MAF TL) transport sick and injured people from rural regions to the capital Dili.

In the five years prior to the 2022 census, women received assistance from a midwife in 58.3% of births, 24.1% from a doctor, 23.7% from traditional birth attendance, 23.2% from a nurse, and 14.5% by other people. In 0.9% of births there was no person helping. Taken together, women were assisted by medically trained personnel in 68.5% of births. In 2016 the rate was 57%, in 2009/2010 it was 30%. While this support could only be accessed for 41.0% of births in rural Ermera, the rate in the capital municipality of Dili was 93.3%.

The share of the national budget for health expenditure was 4.73% in 2008. 34.1% (2010, 2006: 38%) of the residents do not have clean drinking water and 60.8% (2010, 2006: 59%) do not have access to sanitary facilities (as of 2006). For every 100,000 live births in 2004, 800 mothers died. In 2008, UNICEF praised East Timor for reducing child mortality by 40% between 1990 and 2006. Child mortality was 177 in 1990, 80 in 2004, 61 in 2005 and 44 in 2010. Infant mortality was 50% in 1974, 133 per 1000 births in 1990, 64 in 2004, 52 in 2005 and 47 in 2006. One reason for this Declining rates of child mortality are increasing medical care. In 2010, 53% of children aged 12 to 23 months were provided with all important vaccinations; in 2003 this was only 18%. However, in 2010, 23% of children were still without any vaccinations.

The Cruz Vermelha de Timor-Leste CVTL (East Timor Red Cross) was founded in 2000.

The ongoing malnutrition, especially among children, is problematic. 46 percent of children under the age of five are stunted due to malnutrition, and 24 percent of children are severely underweight. Only 6 percent are overweight (as of 2018). The situation is worst in the municipalities of Ermera, Ainaro and the Oe-Cusse Ambeno Special Administrative Region. On the Global Hunger Index in 2019, East Timor ranked 106th out of 107 with a value of 37.6 (2008: 46.8; 2019: 34.5). The situation is classified as very serious. The reason for the critical situation is the frequent crop failures in East Timor and the low productivity of agriculture. The average East Timorese male is very short at 160 cm. It is the smallest average height in the world.

The birth rate in 2011 was 36.85 births per 1000 inhabitants (2004: 43.6), the death rate in 2011 was 8.77 deaths per 1000 inhabitants (2004: 10.8). Due to reports of alleged forced sterilizations during the Indonesian occupation, women in particular have increased mistrust of government medical institutions, which makes it particularly difficult to care for pregnant women. In some areas the proportion of young mothers is extremely high. The national average in 2004 was 59.2 births per 1,000 live births to mothers between the ages of 15 and 19, but in Tilomar, for example, there were 114.4, meaning that this subdistrict at the time had similar numbers to some Latin American countries.

East Timor is one of the countries with the highest proportion of smokers in the population. 33% of residents smoke every day, and among men the proportion is as high as 61%. There is a lack of comprehensive health education and there is no regulation of cigarette consumption, tobacco sales or advertising. Mostly imported goods from Indonesia are smoked. However, there are also local tobacco farmers whose production is used to roll their own cigarettes, which further reduces the already low prices for cigarettes.

In the rainy season, protection from mosquitoes is necessary to protect yourself from infections transmitted by them. In 2006 there were 223,000 recorded cases of malaria and 68 deaths. With the help of the WHO, a nationwide National Malaria Control Program (NMCP) was launched. In 2018, no new cases of malaria were recorded in East Timor. Other diseases such as tuberculosis and Japanese encephalitis are still widespread. The number of cases of dengue fever has fallen sharply in recent years, from 2,789 in 2006 to 187 in 2008. However, there were major outbreaks of the disease in Dili in 2014 and early 2019 and in Ermera in 2020, with 117 cases and four deaths.

Progress has been made in combating leprosy. While 4.7 new infections per 10,000 inhabitants were registered in 2004, in 2009 there were only 1.3. Still, that meant about 1,300 new cases of the disease between 2004 and 2009. East Timor has been considered measles-free since 2018. To date there have been over 10,348 confirmed cases of Corona in East Timor. There are currently 695 infected people (as of July 25, 2021) and 26 deceased.

HIV still plays a minor role, even though most East Timorese know nothing about the risk of AIDS or its prevention. In 2002 there was only one death from HIV in East Timor; in 2003 there were six known cases of infection. In March 2011 there were a total of 239 cases, 42 of which had already died. Most of the infected come from Dili, but there are also cases in Maliana (18) and Baucau (9). In August 2012, 263 people infected with HIV were registered, including 28 new cases. 73 of them are receiving antiretroviral drugs. 17 of those infected are children under the age of five, and another five children have already died as a result of AIDS.

According to the 2022 census, there are 17,061 people with disabilities in East Timor, including 6,665 with visual impairment, 7,553 with walking impairment and 6,356 with hearing impairment.

Eye problems are relatively common among the East Timorese population. 3.6% of residents over 40 are blind. The most common cause of this is cataracts. In contrast, age-related macular degeneration, which is otherwise common worldwide, rarely occurs. The reason could be the genes of the majority of the population. Of the haplogroups for the Y chromosome, 73% come from Asian ancestors, 13% each from Eurasia and Africa and 1% from Oceania. In contrast, 69% of the haplogroups for mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) come from Asia, 15% from Africa, but only 1% from Eurasia and 17% from Oceania. The different origins suggest that there were either very many different waves of immigration to Timor or that the East Timorese are descended from a few men with very different origins. Studies showed that there are clear differences with the West Timorese population, which has a different ethnic composition. In fact, historians speak of at least four waves of immigration to Timor.


Administrative-territorial division

The territory of East Timor is divided into 13 administrative regions:
Cova Lima

The districts are further divided into 90 subdistricts, 700 sukos and 7225 villages (hamlets).

The border between East Timor and Indonesia was officially defined by Portugal and the Netherlands by treaties in 1859 and 1913. The border was finally established in The Hague in 1916. Following the re-declaration of East Timor's independence in 2002, the parties proceeded to delimit the border, which has not yet been completed. Differences remain over three sections of the border between Indonesia and East Timor. There is a free movement of people and goods between East Timor's semi-enclave Oecussi and mainland East Timor.

It is a member of the international organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.




East Timor's 2002 constitution was modeled on the Portuguese.

In many quarters, East Timor is described as a “rumor-based society”, which is a result of the traumatization caused by its violent past. After the conquest ended, Indonesia kept the occupied country in a constant state of tension through a kind of tension strategy to suppress domestic political resistance to the occupation. There were arbitrary arrests, public display of corpses, mysterious murders and spreading of rumors. The secret resistance groups probably used similar methods to incite fear among the occupiers. The population is therefore vulnerable to rumors and conspiracy theories, which is exploited by all political parties and actors. This begins with assumptions about the constitutional legitimacy of the first coalition government under Xanana Gusmão and goes on to unsubstantiated allegations of corruption and allegations of misconduct by foreign security forces (for example the “INTERFET frog”) and incompetence of those in power, all the way to rumors about armed, paramilitary groups and Speculation about the violent death of the rebel Alfredo Reinado and his connections abroad. In May 2009, Deputy Police Commander Alfredo de Jesus appealed on radio and television to the population not to believe the rumor that a witch named Magareta was flying over Dili at night. The rumors spread quickly through word of mouth, text messages and internet blogs. There are also announcements and warnings (for example via SMS) about violent riots or mass demonstrations that then never take place, or demonstrations of power by militant groups, for example with staged flag ceremonies. The result is a “Kingdom of Fear” that is reinforced by the real violence that occurs again and again.

In 2009, only 62% of East Timorese residents said they could freely express their political opinions in their hometown; 24% said no. In 2017, 90% believed they were free to express their views, while only 2% did not believe this.

In November 2016, 98% of 1,200 respondents said they wanted to vote in the 2017 elections. 72% expected the country to be better off next year and 49% said it was already on the right track. 29% of respondents thought the government was doing a very good job, while 45% said the job was good. 44% said they were close to FRETILIN and 75% had a positive attitude towards the party. 29% saw the condition of the country's roads as the most important problem. 32% thought it had worsened in the last year, while 29% saw an improvement. A majority of respondents saw improvements in healthcare (79%), education (78%) and electricity (71%). 66% are afraid of violent riots in the election environment.

In the Global Peace Index 2020, East Timor came in at number 54 and received the “High State of Peace” classification with a score of 1.863. This puts us ahead of Albania (55th place) and Greece (57th place). In the 2020 Democracy Index by the British magazine The Economist, East Timor ranks 44th out of 167 countries and is therefore considered an “incomplete democracy”. In the country report Freedom in the World 2020 by the US non-governmental organization Freedom House, the country's political system is rated as “free”. In the rankings it is behind India and ahead of Hungary.

Transparency International listed East Timor at number 77 in the 2022 Corruption Perception Index with a score of 42, an improvement over previous years and the same ranking as Burkina Faso, Hungary, Kuwait, Trinidad and Tobago, the Solomon Islands and Vietnam. In the region, only Singapore and Australia have better values. The Anti-Corruption Commission (CAC) began its work in 2010 to combat corruption. In a survey, 79% of residents welcomed the establishment of the commission. Over the last few years, there have been repeated court hearings against former government members on allegations of corruption and mismanagement. In 2012, Lúcia Lobato was the first former minister to be sentenced to five years in prison for mismanagement, but only served 18 months due to a pardon. In 2015, former Education Minister João Câncio Freitas was sentenced to seven years in prison for corruption. In addition, two state secretaries and four senior officials have been sentenced to prison for corruption.

The government's handling of the crimes committed during the Indonesian occupation period was criticized by human rights organizations, the Catholic Church and large sections of the population. Since regaining independence, leaders have advocated reconciliation and forgiveness, both with neighboring Indonesia and with collaborators within East Timor. Coming to terms with the events was limited to registering the incidents and local peace mediation under state leadership. In early 2015, the government announced the policy of “de-mourning the nation” (tetum Dez-lutu Nasional) or “casting off the black.” The memory of the past should now be carried out more in remembrance than, as before, in mourning. Critics note that many families have not yet come to terms with their grief because the remains of their relatives have not yet been found. There is no trace of many of the victims of the occupation, including the popular hero Nicolau Lobato, whose 37th death anniversary on December 31, 2015 was supposed to mark the end of the Dez-lutu Nasional.