In the International Monetary Fund (July 2005) East Timor country report, it is declared that the Timorese are known collectively as Maubere.  Timorese consist of a number of distinct ethnic groups, most of who are of mixed Malayo-Polynesian descent and Melanesian/Papuan stock.  In East Timor, the largest Malayo-Polynesian ethnic groups are the Tetun or Tetum (100,000), primarily living in the north coast and around Dili, the Mambere (80,000), living in the mountains of central East Timor, the Tukudede (63,170), who are living in the area around Maubara and Liquisa, the Galoli (50,000) living between the tribes of Mambae and Makasae, Kemak (50,000) in north-central Timor island, and the Baikeno (20,000), living in the area around Pantemakassar.  The main tribes of predominantly Papuan origin include the Bunak (50,000) living in Central interior Timor island, the Fataluku (30,000) living in the eastern tip of East Timor around Los Palos, and the Makasae living in the eastern end of the island (IMF, July 2005).

The article entitled Ethno Linguistic Situation in East Timor (Hattori, Gomes, Ajo, & Belo, 2005), elaborates on the diversity of the population as being very significant, with more than 30 languages or dialects in use.  The major local languages include Tetun, Mambae and Macassae, each spoken by more than 10% of the population.  The main language, Tetun, is understood by a large majority (about 80% according to some estimates) of the population, with about 40% able to understand and use Indonesian, approximately 5% able to understand Portuguese, and about 2% English.  Indonesian was the working language for the government and the medium of instruction in schools during the more than 20 years of Indonesian rule.  The new official languages are Portuguese and Tetun, with Indonesian and English given the status of working languages.  Indonesian is still widely spoken and English is fast becoming the preferred language of commerce.  This poses unique challenges of communication within the Government, between the Government and the people, between the Government and businesses, and within the education system (Hattori et al., 2005).

The Timorese are a racially mixed people composed of Melanesian and Malay genetic elements as mentioned by the online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia (Wikipedia, East Timor).  In addition, in common with other former Portuguese colonies where interracial marriage was common, there is also smaller population of people of mixed Timorese and Portuguese origin, known in Portuguese as Mestiço.  The best internationally known East Timorese Mestiço is José Manuel Ramos, presently the president of Democratic Republic of East Timor since May 20, 2007.

Upon independence, East Timor became one of only two predominantly Roman Catholic countries in Asia (along with the Philippines).  Portugal’s major religion is Catholic and their influence had been significant for centuries in their colonies.  Out of the current approximate one million citizens of East Timor, the population is predominantly Roman Catholic (90%), with some Muslim (5%) and Protestant (3%) minorities.  Smaller Hindu, Buddhist and animist minorities (2%) make up the remainder (Pedersen & Arneberg 2004).

Church membership grew considerably under Indonesian rule.  Indonesia’s state ideology, Pancasila, does not recognize traditional beliefs and requires all citizens to believe in God.  Pedersen & Arneberg (2004) reports that although the struggle was not about religion, as a deep-rooted local institution, the Church not only symbolized East Timor’s distinction from predominantly Muslim Indonesia, but also played a significant role in the resistance movement.  The constitution acknowledges the Church’s role among the East Timorese people although it also stipulates a secular state that guarantees freedom of religion to everyone (Pedersen & Arneberg 2004).


From INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT PAPER for Concept of Community Development by Luc Sabot

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