Timorese Society

Timorese people have always formed a rich and effective society, a complex hierarchical organisation based on elaborate cultural, political and economic systems. For centuries, rites in animist traditions accompanied and expressed the culture, thus forming a stable and meaningful way of life.


Portugal was in Timor-Leste for 450 years, a colonisation widely described as ‘benign neglect.’   The Catholic religion and Portuguese language were introduced, but education and infrastructure remained undeveloped.  Resistance to Portuguese control was intermittent but fierce, with uprisings in the 19th century, in 1895, 1912 and 1959.  Revolution in Portugal caused it to relinquish its overseas territories in 1974.


Portugal’s neutrality did not protect Timor from invasion by Australia and Japan. Timor faced the dangers which threaten vulnerable but strategic regions. Its rich resources and proximity to major powers remain crucial to this day, helping to explain why the “Battle for Timor” remains widely unknown by those who benefited most from the suffering of the Timorese people; the Australians.


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