Background Of East Timor

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Background Of Eas Timor
The East Timorese, living in the eastern half of the island of Timor, which lies between Indonesia and Australia, occupy a land whose area is 14,875 km2.. The population 1975, when the Portuguese left, was 680,000 – 97% Timorese (including mestizos), 2% Chines, under 1% Portuguese.(The population today is 800,000 – 78% Timorese, 2% Chinese, 20% Indonesia ). East Timor has a common boundry with West Timor, which is part of Indonesia, the former Dutch East Indies.
For centuries the East Timorese had been farmers, living in scattered hamlets and eating what they grew. Only a few coastal East Timorese were fishermen. Trading and shop keeping had for generations been in the hands of the Chinese.
East Timor is extremely mountainous, so the majority of East Timorese had always lived in isolation, far from towns and foreign influences, tied to their field and animistic practices. In spite of centuries of Catholic missionary work by the Portuguese, in 1975 animists still numbered as much as 72% of the population. The local Timorese kings played an important military was almost non-existent.
Culturally speaking, one of the most remarkable facts about the Timorese is their ethno-cultural heterogeneity. This is evident in the various languages and dialects as well as differences in material goods, most notably in regional architecture. The Timorese people have a rich oral tradition in which mythology and legend play an important role in passing on knowledge about the pre-colonial period and the later evolution of the kingdoms. There is also a long tradition of animist spiritualism in Timor which remains highly influential today, despite exposure to major powerful religions and the Timorese people’s growing allegiance to the Catholic Church.
                                                     Neither Hinduism nor the
                                          Islam had influence in the Timorese beliefs.
                                            That achievement was reserved to the
                                                        Christian missionaries.
When the Portuguese first disembarked in Timor, the inhabitants were identified as animists. In 1522, Pigafetta referred to the Timorese as “gentiles”, and wrote that “when they go cut sandalwood, it was told to us that the demon appears in various forms and tells them to ask for something that they need”. Later, in 1559 the priest Baltazar Dias states in a letter that the Timorese “are the beastliest people that exist in these parts. Nothing do they adore, neither have [they] idols. Everything what the Portuguese tell them, they do it.”. This indicates that the expansion of the Islamic religion from Malaysia in the 15th century hadn't reached Timor (although it is said that the Sultan of Ternate, Cachil Aeiro, should have subjected the island).  

While the Malays, Chinese, Japanese and others frequented Timor and surrounding islands before the arrival of the Portuguese, colonisation and religious conversion (eg to Islam) was not their purpose nor was it permitted by the local Chiefs (Liurais). For instance, just like the early years of Portuguese contact, the Muslims appeared to have lived on the island only for the short period of time needed to cut and load the highly prized sandalwood trees. In the words of the captain of Malacca in 1518 to King D. Manuel, the Timorese also “had natural aversion to the Muslims”.
Animist religion in Timor-Leste revolves around the spirits of the dead who are both feared and worshipped. These spirits are materialized through stones, animals, wells, streams or objects endowed with mysterious magical powers that can be either good or evil. In Timor these are called ‘Luliks’, which means sacred and intangible.
Efforts to promote spiritual conversion to Christian Catholicism were introduced into Timor through Portuguese colonisation. However, the influence of the Catholic Church really took hold and began to strengthen only after the Indonesian invasion. This is partly because the Church, particularly the Diocese of Dili, gained the respect and prestige of the people during this period because they often came to the defense of Timorese lives. Today more than 90% of Timorese identify Catholicism as their religion. Nevertheless, animist beliefs remain strong in Timor-Leste and only a minority of local Christians (serani in Tetum) can be considered as having no animist beliefs. For a few Timorese, animism remains their main spiritual religion which informs their cultural practices and outlook on life.


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