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Timor-LesteTimor-Leste is sometimes called East Timor; Timor-Leste is the Portuguese name meaning East Timor in English. Timor is in reference to the island on which the country sits; the country only rules over the eastern part of the island though, hence the "east" in the country name.

Oddly, the Indonesian and Malay word timur is the origin of the island's name and this word means "east." In this way, the name literally translates to mean "east east" although the one "east" refers to the island name and the other to the side of the island the country controls.



Timor-Leste (East Timor) is, as the name would suggest, the eastern part of the island of Timor, which is surrounded by Indonesia. This location has dictated much of the island's culture and way of life, yet it is the catholic faith of the people in Timor-Leste that gave them political independence from Indonesia. The similarities between the people of Timor-Leste and Indonesia are many, particularly the similarities with the people of Timor island who are citizens of Indonesia. These similarities come in numerous forms, including culture, lifestyle, language, foods, and more. However, the people of Timor-Leste strongly identify with Catholicism and this difference was enough to separate the two nations politically. Since independence, the people of Timor-Leste have slowly developed a culture and way of life that differentiates themselves from the people of Indonesia.

The lands of Timor Island are rich and fertile as are the nearby seas. Throughout most of the island's history, the people lived much as other people in the larger archipelago have lived, which is surviving off the land and the sea. The people of Timor, like many other people in the region, had limited contact with outside people so their lifestyle changed little over the years as they had limited contact with outsiders.

Although these cultures are rooted in a similar island lifestyle, the shift in culture for the East Timorese came with the arrival of the Portuguese in the 1500s when Catholicism was introduced and accepted by the majority of the people (an event that took place over a couple hundred years). While this only slightly altered the way of life for the people, it placed a huge wedge between the Catholics and the Muslims, who were also living on Timor.

Despite the religious differences, the people of Timor Island, no matter their faith, primarily continued to live off the land and sea into the 1970s, when differences were magnified and political tensions began. Indonesia invaded and took control over the entire island in this decade, leading to greater independence movements and a sharpening divide between the Catholics and Muslims. This strong rule by the Indonesian government magnified the people's religious differences, but also placed emphasis on numerous other differences, such as the numerous aspects of Portuguese culture the East Timorese had adopted.

The political debates also led to a slowly changing methodology of identifying for the people of Timor-Leste. The many similarities between the people took second priority as the people on both sides focused on differences as the East Timorese began identifying first with the differences and only secondly by their commonalities.

Although Timor-Leste is now independent, little has changed in the culture or society in recent years as the people remain fairly rural and identity is still strongly based on their Catholic faith and traits that make them unique from the Indonesians. Their differences with neighbors have also continued, but are now expanding to include arguments with Australia over maritime borders, leaving Timor-Leste few allies and growing isolationism, which is oddly helping secure cultural traditions that have been lost on many neighboring islands.

The colors on Timor-Leste's flag have varying meanings. The yellow represents colonialism, black symbolizes the obscurantism (deliberately preventing facts or all details from becoming known) that needs to be overcome, and red represents the national liberation struggle. The white star symbolizes peace and acts as a guiding light.

Name: Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste
Independence: November 28, 1975; Recognized May 20, 2002
Capital: Dili
Currency: Indonesian Rupiah
Population: 1,172,390 (2013 estimate)
Ethnicity: Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian) & Papuan
Language: Tetum & Portuguese
Religion: Roman Catholic

Information for Timor-Leste was last updated: March, 2014 ● View our: Sources & Special Thanks