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East Timor

A map of East TimorA map of East TimorEast Timor is one of the world’s newest countries: it became independent from Indonesia in 2002. It consists of the eastern half of the island of Timor in the Indonesian archipelago, a small area on the northwest coast called Oecusse and two small islands, Atauro and Jaco. Most of the country is covered by forested mountains, sloping down to white sandy beaches at the coast. East Timor had been under the rule of Portugal for 400 years, before being taken over by Indonesia in 1975. The Portuguese introduced the country’s main religion, Catholicism, and one of its official languages. The country is sometimes known by its Portuguese name, “Timor-Leste”.

Playing the karau dikur, made from a buffalo hornPlaying the karau dikur, made from a buffalo horn


East Timor’s people belong to a number of ethnic groups, from a mix of Malayan, Indonesian, Polynesian, Melanesian and Papuan backgrounds. The largest ethnic group is the Tetum, who may be descendants of invaders who brought Indonesian culture to Timor. Over 20 languages are spoken in East Timor, including Portuguese, but most Timorese people use Tetum to communicate with one another.

A mountain village in Aileu district, East TimorA mountain village in Aileu district, East Timor


Decades of fighting in East Timor have left it one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. Since its independence in 2002, the country has received help from other countries, including Australia, to rebuild its economy. Most people make a living from fishing and farming; around a quarter work on plantations growing coffee, one of the country’s largest exports.

East Timor is the world’s fourth-newest country. The newer countries are Montenegro (2006), Serbia (2006) and South Sudan (2011).

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