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Demographics of East Timor


The population of East Timor is about one million. It has grown considerably recently, because of a high birth rate and because of the return of refugees. The population is especially concentrated in the area around Dili.


The Timorese are called Maubere collectively by some of their political organizations, an originally derogatory name turned into a name of pride by Fretilin.

They consist of a number of distinct ethnic groups, most of whom are of mixed Malayo-Polynesian and Melanesian/Papuan descent.

The largest Malayo-Polynesian ethnic groups are the Tetum (or Tetun) (100,000), primarily in the north coast and around Dili; the Mambae (80,000), in the central mountains; the Tukudede (63,170), in the area around Maubara and Liquiçá; the Galoli (50,000), between the tribes of Mambae and Makasae; the Kemak (50,000) in north-central Timor island; and the Baikeno (20,000), in the area around Pante Macassar.

The main tribes of predominantly Papuan origin include the Bunak (50,000), in the central interior of Timor island; the Fataluku (30,000), at the eastern tip of the island near Lospalos; and the Makasae, toward the eastern end of the island.

In addition, like other former Portuguese colonies where interracial marriage was common, there is a smaller population of people of mixed Timorese and Portuguese origin, known in Portuguese as mestiços.

The East Timorese mestiço best-known internationally is José Ramos-Horta, the spokesman for the resistance movement in exile, and now President of East Timor.

Mário Viegas Carrascalão, Indonesia\'s appointed governor between 1987 and 1992, is also a mestiço.

East Timor also has a small Chinese minority, most of whom are Hakka.

Most left after the Indonesian invasion, with most moving to Australia although many Sino-Timorese have returned, including Pedro Lay, the Minister for Infrastructure.


Biggest language groups in sucos of East Timor.

East Timor\'s two official languages are Portuguese and Tetum, which belongs to the Austronesian family of languages spoken throughout Southeast Asia.

The predominant form of Tetum, known as Tetun-Dili, grew out of the dialect favored by the colonizers at Dili and, thus, has considerable Portuguese influence.

Other dialects of Tetum are also widely used in the country, including Tetun-Terik which is spoken along the southwestern coast.

Indonesian and English are defined as working languages under the Constitution in the Final and Transitional Provisions, without setting a final date.

Another 15 indigenous languages are spoken: Bekais, Bunak, Dawan, Fataluku, Galoli, Habun, Idalaka, Kawaimina, Kemak, Lovaia, Makalero, Makasai, Mambai, Tokodede, and Wetarese.

Under Indonesian rule, the use of Portuguese was banned, but it was used by the clandestine resistance, especially in communicating with the outside world.

The language, along with Tetum, gained importance as a symbol of resistance and freedom. It was adopted as one of the two official languages for this reason and as a link to nations in other parts of the world. It is now being taught and promoted widely with the help of Brazil, Portugal, and the Latin Union.

According to East Timor\'s 2010 census, along with other local languages, Tetum is the most common means of communication between ordinary Timorese: Almost 90% of Timorese use Tetum in their daily life, while Indonesian is still widely used in the media and school from high school to university by an estimated 35%.

It is estimated that English is understood by 31.4% of the population. 23.5% speak, read and write Portuguese, which is up significantly from less than 5% in the 2006 UN Development Report.

A large proportion of words in Tetum are derived from Portuguese, and it also shares many Malay-derived words with Indonesian. Many Indonesian words are still in common use in Tetum and other Timorese languages, particularly numbers.

East Timor is a member of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), also known as the Lusophone Commonwealth, and a member of the Latin Union.

It is the only independent state in Asia with Portuguese as an official language, although it is also one of the official languages of China\'s Special Administrative Region of Macau.