Local traditions and culture in East Timor

  • Dong Son-style houses
    Dong Son-style houses
    by DSwede
  • Meal at the end of a stick
    Meal at the end of a stick
    by DSwede
  • Corn Crops in the mountians
    Corn Crops in the mountians
    by DSwede

Most Viewed Local Customs in East Timor

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    Skulls in the Cemeteries

    by DSwede Updated Sep 22, 2011

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    East Timor is heavily Catholic (~97%), which makes it one of two predominately Catholic countries in Asia (the other being the Philippines). So there is no shortage of Catholic cemeteries and crucifixes on their graves.

    However, East Timor is also heavily animist. These tendencies predate the Portuguese colonization and religious missionary conversions. Therefore you will often have a mixture of animist and Christian symbols.

    With that being said, I never heard a definitive reason why many of the remote and rural burial graves had skulls and horns decorating the crosses above them.

    It may be an animist symbol, but I think it is a reflection of wealth of the family or clan. This is more in line with neighboring cultures of other Indonesian islands.

    To find these, simply get out of the cities. The skulls will be more common in small villages and rural areas.

    Related to:
    • Archeology
    • Religious Travel
    • Arts and Culture

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    Eating customs

    by DSwede Updated Oct 20, 2010

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    As a reply to a forum question, here was my reply:

    Q: Would anyone be able to inform me on the East Timores'e Cultural eating practices. Are there any traditions at meal time? Is it a sit down, family activity?

    If you going to be dining with locals at their homes, I can't speak as an expert since I only ate a local's house twice. Both times it was way out in the villages. First time, only the old man of the house dined with me as his wife and family ate separately. The second time, the family was all together.

    The meal was small, but adequate enough being some rice and fried fish. They use silverware but depending on the food, eating with the hands sometimes too.

    Dining at restaurants is just the same as any western country.

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    Still Hunting the Hard Way

    by DSwede Written Mar 18, 2010

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    People in East Timor still live a rather hard life, one that is more hand-to-mouth and less about creature comforts.

    The more removed from the capital city, the more the people are completely self sufficient. The coastal areas live on diets heavily fortified with fish caught by local fishermen. The rest of the diet is a mixture of rice, corn and various vegetables grown in local fields.

    The people in the interior however have a bit more of a laborious job to put food on their plates. While the diet may also consist of rice, corn and vegetables from local farms, the meat they eat usually comes from the hunters.

    Shown here are some hunters and their tools outside of Com.

    Related to:
    • Road Trip
    • Adventure Travel

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    Harvesting Corn Crops

    by DSwede Written Mar 11, 2010

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    The food in Timor is similar to some Indonesia food. Its quite common to fry fish, banana and noodles. Also corn is grown on the island more than rice, which surprised me a bit, but therefore corn and cornmeal makes its way into the diet. Food was not spicy, but fairly savory.

    I found it a bit odd at first to hear from some locals (both from Kupang and from Dili) that corn on Timor is grown more than rice. But after touring the island's expanses, I would have to agree.

    Crops in Timor are planted by hand, therefore size and shape is not dictated by large machinery. They can be squeezed in to any clearing and in any orientation. Rice required flat patties to be developed, however since corn requires no such flat ground, it is much better suited for the mountainous terrain.

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    Tetum - The Language of Timor-Leste

    by bkoon Updated Dec 7, 2004

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    It is best to know some Tetum. The government has adopted the Portuguese language recently as the official language while Tetum remains the national language.

    Tetum is undergoing development now as it used to be a very much spoken language and hence, much development on written Tetum needs to be done.

    P.S.: I shall be putting in some common Tetum phrases and words which are often used soon.

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    Dili Waterfront - Typical Dili Woman

    by bkoon Written Dec 5, 2004

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    This is a picture of a typical Dili woman. When I was taking her picture, she was smiling away, very shy yet curious. The Dili-dwellers love eating betelnut as I saw many of them eating, including this woman.

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    Dili Waterfront - The Womenfolk

    by bkoon Written Dec 5, 2004

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    As you walk along the waterfront, you will get to see fruits stalls selling all kinds of local fruits like bananas, mangoes, papayas, etc. During the lazy afternoon period, you will see the womenfolk who are manning the stalls helping one another to pick out hair lice.

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    Di'ak Kalae?

    by Yiannis2000 Updated Dec 15, 2002

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    "How are you?"
    This the way to tell it to an East Timorese, if he doesn't speak English (some 5%, mostly young people do so) or Portuguese (about 30% of the older generation speak and understand it).
    The local language is called TETUM, the Xmas wishes on top of my home and East Timor pages are in Tetum!!
    Tetum is nowdays used by most locals, except the ones at the eastern Los Palos district that speak the very distinct language FATALUKU...

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    TIMOR Lorosae is culturally...

    by Yiannis2000 Written Dec 8, 2002

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    TIMOR Lorosae is culturally quite different from neighbouring Indonesia. Their local dialects, now tetum and fataluku, are non-malay languages and their elite speaks Portugues, nowdays just 30% of the population, mainly the elders. Almost all timorese are Catholic Christians, but most respect their animist sacred places and traditions.For more information, cultural and more, on this emerging land visit the official site:

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East Timor Local Customs

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