East Timor – a country shaped like a crocodile

A beautiful country that you will never come to.

Today I want to show you East Timor, a wonderful, very small and very peaceful country that you will probably never visit. It is quite difficult to get to, there are very few flights to East Timor. And in general, tourists can be bored here – there are no attractions, except the clear sea and forested mountains. But there are friendly and hardworking people, national arts and crafts, organic food, wildlife without dangerous predators and insects, not extremely hot weather and the youngest and fastest growing democracy.

01. East Timor occupies the eastern half of the island of Timor. The main part of the country is occupied by mountains overgrown with dense forests. There are flat areas only on the coast.

02. A view of the center of the capital of Timor-Leste, Dili. There are almost no high-rise buildings, the city is more like one big private sector with lots of greenery and few people. This feels like a provincial island town, not the capital of a developing country.

03. it’s the center. Very little Portuguese colonial architecture has survived in the city. But these isolated buildings are lost in the general mass of more recent constructions.

04. From 1702 to 1974 East Timor was a Portuguese colony. But then there was a revolution in Portugal, and the Timorese took advantage of the confusion to seize power and declare their independence. They remained independent for exactly nine days before the Indonesians occupied the island.

05. Indonesia, backed by the U.S. and Australia, declared East Timor its new colony and massacred the local population. During the 27 years that the Indonesians held power in Timor, an estimated 100,000 to 250,000 people, ranging from 17% to 40% of the country’s total population, were killed. A similar number of people fled East Timor to other countries.

06. By the end of the 1990s, it was clear that the Timorese resistance could not be extinguished, so Indonesians began to think about granting them autonomy. It was decided to hold a referendum, and 78.5% of Timorese voted for full independence. The Indonesians were furious with these results and again massacred the local population.

07. Eventually, a UN peacekeeping force was deployed to Timor, driving Indonesian military factions out of the country and helping Timor recover from the blow. In 2002, the Timorese finally took control of the country and officially proclaimed themselves an independent state. That same year, East Timor joined the United Nations.

08. A view of the presidential palace. This is the coolest place in town :) So you can roughly imagine how things are in other areas.

09. This is how the main streets of the city look like. The development is very sparse, you can find a lot of vacant lots and lonely private houses.

10. A school with the trademark Timorese pyramid roof. It is often used in the architecture of public buildings, churches and houses.

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11. The entrance to the school passes through a garbage dump. No one here cares about garbage.

12. The school doesn’t have a canteen, so snack and fast food vendors come here during recess. The kids eat right outside and throw out their trash here. That’s why it’s so messy.

13. There is only one mosque in the city, but no one goes to it either. About 97% of the local population is Catholic and very religious. On Sundays, the locals go to church and the young people behave in a very chaste manner.

14. You can see images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary at almost every turn, posters and calendars with their images are sold everywhere. Even the tiles in the auto shop may have a religious theme.

15. East Timor is a young country, and it still has a lot to do. The most important tasks are to improve the infrastructure, raise the standard of living of the population and continue to develop the economy. The good news is that Timor is a very open country, and it wants to develop. If it continues to do so, in a few years it will have changed beyond recognition.

16. Private business in Timor has only just begun to develop. Most of it is done by the Chinese, who come here to sell their junk. The Timorese, after their short years of independence, have not yet developed a culture of consumption, so they are happy for anything that is offered to them.

17. But maybe soon normal stores, restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues will start to open here. The environment is very favorable and there is no competition.

18. There is also a lot of Chinese architecture in the city. For example, the Chinese built a building for the local Ministry of Defence.

19. South Korea is also interested in Timor and has a number of different projects which are going to be realized here in the near future.

20. It is customary for local merchants to sell fresh goods right on the highways. They put freshly caught fish on the sidewalks on palm leaves and sell chickens, fruit, and various goods of their own production.

21. For personal earnings, locals are engaged in fishing, collecting pearls, raising vegetable gardens and poultry. Some people weave baskets, carve wooden figurines, and make pottery. The people here are hardworking.

22. And they are also very friendly. The example of the Indonesians is very telling: despite decades of bloody occupation, the Timorese now have a very peaceful attitude toward Indonesia. Also, the Timorese are very obedient and polite, so they are happy to be invited as seasonal workers to other countries, such as Australia.

23. these are the local guards. All guards wear shirts with a vertical stripe of the national pattern sewn on them.

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24. Fishing boats can be seen on the beaches. Locals do not sit idly by and try to provide for themselves.

25. The locals speak Tetum, which has a lot of words from Portuguese. It is a common language for the whole country, but there are about 30 different dialects.

26. Despite the fact that the country is very small, the dialects are very different from each other. People from different parts of Timor may not understand each other until they switch to Tetum.

27. In general, the country earns Timor from oil, gas, and coffee. So there is plenty of money in the country, only no one knows where to spend it.

28. There are few good managers in the country, so the Timorese invite various economic and political consultants from abroad (particularly from Portugal).

30. Now Timor is a vibrant democracy. There are regular elections and changes of government, and people can openly support any party they like, even if it criticizes the ruling government. There is universal suffrage and people can vote from the age of 17.

31. Because of the general security, the working democracy, and the absence of Islam, Americans and Europeans feel very comfortable here.

32. They invest in the development of Timor, send volunteers here, and invite Timorese to visit. Many go abroad to study or work, and some stay abroad.

East Timor

The Democratic Republic of East Timor (República Democrática de Timor-Leste)

The East Timor Hymn

Timor-Leste is a State in South-East Asia which occupies part of the Timor Island and the adjacent islands of the Lesser Sunda Archipelago – Kamping and Jaco. The area is 15,007 square kilometres. East Timor has a population of 1,291,358 people, most of whom are Malay, Papuans and Chinese. The capital and administrative center is Dili.

Until 1975, East Timor was a Portuguese colony, then it was under Indonesian occupation and became part of this country, against the resolutions of the UN General Assembly and Security Council. In May 2002, it was officially declared an independent state.

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Video: East Timor


East Timor is a mountainous country. The highest mountains are in the west; in the east they gradually change to a rocky plateau, and in the south to a narrow plain. The climate is hot, equatorial. The highest average annual temperature of +38 ° C is observed in the south, and here the maximum rainfall – 1500 mm. From November to May, the northwestern monsoon dominates. During this time, it rains constantly, rivers overflow, and roads become impassable. From June to November, the southeast monsoon blows in, bringing in the dryer breath of the Australian mainland.

The flora of East Timor is poor compared to the lush vegetation of the other islands of the Indonesian archipelago. Wet tropical forests are found along the coast on a plain surrounded on three sides by mountains, and in mountain gorges, well protected from the Australian dry winds. Large areas are covered by savannahs. The Timorese economy is based on agriculture which is oriented toward the production of export crops, such as coffee, rubber trees, and coconuts. Rice, corn, sorghum, beans, and sugar cane are grown for home consumption. Natural conditions are favorable for the development of cattle breeding. On Timor they breed buffalos, goats, horses. Auxiliary occupations are coastal sea fishing, hunting, forest trades, handicrafts.

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History of East Timor

The history of East Timor began with the appearance of Australoids and Melanesians on the island. By the mid-16th century the island was colonized by the Portuguese. In an 1859 treaty, the island was divided between the Netherlands and Portugal, with the Portuguese taking the eastern part of the island. During World War II, Japan occupied the island (from 1942 to 1945), after the war the Portuguese power was restored.

Until 1975 East Timor was a colony of Portugal and was the least developed possession of the most backward of the colonial powers. The economy was based on agriculture, which was conducted by primitive methods and did not meet the food needs of the colony. Export crops such as coffee, rubber, and copra were developed. About 32% of the budget went for military purposes (upkeep of 7,000 soldiers of the colonial army). 9% went on education, 4% on social security. The proportion of illiterates exceeded 90%. After the revolution of April 25th, 1974, a process of decolonization of the Portuguese possessions in Portugal began, which also involved East Timor. Several political parties were formed, the largest of which were UDT (Democratic Union of Timor) for the territory to remain within Portugal as an overseas province, APODETI (Timorese People’s Democratic Association) for the territory to be annexed to Indonesia and Fretilin (Frente Revolucionária do Timor-Leste Independente), the largest political party in the country, which demanded immediate independence. Several other smaller parties were formed. Negotiations between the Portuguese authorities and political parties on ways to decolonize the territory stalled and then stopped due to the armed confrontation in the colony.

On the night of August 11, 1975, the UDT, supported by local police, staged a coup and some of Fretilin’s leaders and activists were arrested and executed. Fretilin, in turn, relying on Timorese colonial soldiers, took control of the territory, and on November 28, 1975, unilaterally declared the independence of the DRVT (Democratic Republic of East Timor). On November 30, the leaders of APODETI, UDT and two other smaller parties in the Indonesian-occupied part of East Timor issued a joint declaration of annexation of the territory to Indonesia. On the morning of December 7, 1975, an armed invasion by Indonesian troops began, with between 20,000 and 40,000 soldiers at various times. As a result of the military actions, famine and epidemics, about one third of the former colony’s population (over 200 thousand people) were killed. On July 17, 1976 East Timor was included as the 27th province of Indonesia. Measures to Indonesianise the territory began to be implemented, but resistance, including armed resistance, did not cease. There were demonstrations by Timorese students and youth against the new authorities. After the fall of the Suharto regime as a result of mass demonstrations, and under pressure from world opinion, the new Indonesian president, Habibi, was forced to call a referendum on East Timor self-determination. On August 30, 1999, 78.5% of the province’s population voted for independence, which led to a new outbreak of violence in East Timor. Pro-Indonesian police unleashed terror, resulting in tens of thousands of refugees. On September 12, 1999, UN forces were introduced into East Timor, under the protection of which the practical implementation of measures for the establishment of an independent state began. On the night of May 20, 2002, the former Portuguese colony was officially proclaimed an independent state.

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On May 20, 2006, the anniversary of independence from Indonesia, a large part of the DRWT army (593 of 1,433 men) demanded that the rules of the army regulations be relaxed. Brigadier General Taur Matan Ruak dismissed the troublemakers and the latter left the barracks with weapons in hand. A general revolt broke out, a war of all against all. The revolt against the titular tribe, the Tetum, was restrained by the peacekeepers of the four countries.

The geography of East Timor

The East Timor relief is predominantly mountainous: from north-west to south-east the country is traversed by a deeply dissected boulder ridge (the highest point is Mount Tatamailau, 2,963 m) which plunges steeply to the northern coast. Small plateaus 500-700 m high are spread in the east. Low accumulative plains stretch along the southern coast. The position of East Timor within the Alpine-Himalayan mobile belt determines the high seismicity and susceptibility of the island to tsunamis. The coast, shelf and especially the bottom of the Timor Sea are rich in oil and gas.

The climate is subequatorial monsoon with dry and wet seasons. The average monthly temperature is 25-27ºC. The annual rainfall is 1,500-2,000 mm (the southern part of the country is the most humid). Small mountain rivers Loes, Lakio, Seikal and Be Lulio flow down from the slopes of the ridge.

Forests occupy one-third of the country: in the north there are deciduous forests, in the south – moist evergreen forests. As a result of deforestation, primary forests are largely replaced by secondary savannahs with acacia groves, eucalyptus, and casuarina. There are mangroves along the northern coast. Sandalwood forests grow in the mountainous and foothill areas.

Population of Timor-Leste

The peoples of East Timor belong to the East Indonesian anthropological type.

The indigenous population does not represent a single ethnic community, but there is a common self-appellation, the Maubere.

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The largest group in East Timor is the so called Mestisu, or East Timorese proper, who have lost their tribal identity (191,000 people). They live mostly in towns but also inhabit the western districts and the southern coastal area.

The remaining East Timorese are subdivided into tribal entities. The majority of the population is made up of the Austronesian-linguistic Timorese, the largest groups are Mambai (165 thousand people, in the central mountains), Kemak (64 thousand), Dawan (58 thousand in the Oecussi enclave), Tetum Terik (45 thousand), Tokode (39 thousand, in the coastal areas in the north-west), Tetum Belu (30 thousand), and Halolin (15 thousand).

The Timoro-Aloro Papuans are Makasai (110 thousand in the northeast), Bunak (62 thousand in the border mountainous areas), Fataluku (Dagoda, 38 thousand in the eastern peninsula), and Makalero (7 thousand).

The native language of the Mestizu is Tetum (Tetum-prasa), spoken as a second language by most of the country’s population.

The majority of the population (Tetum, Mambai, Tokode) speaks Timorese, a branch of the Central Malay-Polynesian zone of the Austronesian languages. The languages of the Bunaki, Makasai and some other tribes belong to the Timoro-Alomi family of Papuan languages.

During the period of Indonesian occupation (1976-99) a policy of integration of East Timor’s population into Indonesians was implemented, and the knowledge of Indonesian (the state language at that time) was widely spread, while Portuguese was forbidden and Tetum Prasa was kept as the language of communication in the whole territory except for the extreme eastern tip of the island and the Oecussi enclave. Since independence in 2002 Tetum Prasa and Portuguese have become the official languages of East Timor. The latter is mostly spoken by the new social elite who returned from exile after the 1999 referendum on independence. The Indonesian language is still widely spoken.

In 1976-99 the country practiced so called transmigration – resettlement to East Timor of predominantly Muslim population from overpopulated islands of Western Indonesia (Java and Madura, Bali, South Sulawesi, etc.). After the declaration of independence, most Muslims returned to Indonesia, now there are a few thousand Indonesians; there is also a small number of Malaysians from Sarawak. In Dili there is a Muslim community of Arab origin (descendants of immigrants of the mid – late XIX century from Hadramaut) numbering about 1 thousand people. Chinese, mostly Hakka from South China, numbering 11 thousand people, mostly Catholic.

After gaining independence, integration processes intensified, and the former tribal identity was suppressed by the national one. East Timorese literature in Tetum Prasa and Portuguese was formed, and distinctive styles in decorative arts and architecture recycled tribal traditions. The symbol of East Timor was the uma lulik, the sacred Fataluku tribal house.

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