Legend tells that a giant crocodile was transformed into the island of Timor, or Crocodile Island, as it is often called.
Like Indonesia, the culture of East Timor has been heavily influenced by Austronesian legends, although the Catholic influence is stronger, the population being mainly Roman Catholic.
Illiteracy is still widespread, but there is a strong tradition of poetry.
As for architecture, some Portuguese-style buildings can be found, although the traditional totem houses of the eastern region, known as uma lulik also survive.
Craftmanship is also widespread, as is the weaving of traditional scarves or tais.
Easily the most famous East Timorese author is Xanana Gusmão, the leader of the Timorese resistance organization Fretilin, and now the president of independent East Timor.
He wrote two books during the struggle for independence. Also a poet and painter, he produced works describing the culture, values, and skills of the Timorese people.
Other important writers of Timor are: Fernando Sylvan, Francisco Borja da Costa, Ruy Cinatti, and Fitun Fuik.
East Timor's music reflects its history under the control of both Portugal and Indonesia, who have imported music like gamelan and fado.
The most widespread form of native folk music was the likurai dance, performed to by women to welcome home men after war.
They used a small drum and sometimes carried enemy heads in processions through villages; a modern version of the dance is used by women in courtship.
In the modern era, Timorese music has been closely associated with the independence movement; for example, the band Dili All Stars released a song that became an anthem in the build-up to the referendum on independence in 2000, while the United Nations commissioned a song called "Hakotu Ba" (by Lahane) to encourage people to register to vote in the referendum.
East Timorese popular musicians include Teo Batiste Ximenes, who grew up in Australia and uses folk rhythms from his homeland in his music.
With many East Timorese people in emigrant communities in Australia, Portugal and elsewhere, East Timorese folk music has been brought to many places around the world.
Refugee camps in Portugal mixed together East Timorese music with styles from other Portuguese colonies like Angola and Mozambique.
The guitar has long been an important part of East Timorese musc, though it is an import brought by colonizers; there, however, native kinds of string instruments similar in some ways to the guitar. Foreign influences also include popular styles of music like rock and roll, hip hop and reggae.
East Timor has been nominally Catholic since early in the Portuguese colonial period.
The Catholic faith became a central part of East Timorese culture during the Indonesian occupation between 1975 and 1999.
While under Portuguese rule, the East Timorese had mostly been animist, sometimes integrated with minimal Catholic ritual, the number of Catholics dramatically increased under Indonesian rule.
This was for several reasons: Indonesia was predominantly Muslim; the Indonesian state required adherence to one of five officially recognised religions and did not recognise traditional beliefs; and because the Catholic church, which remained directly responsible to the Vatican throughout Indonesian rule, became a refuge for East Timorese seeking sanctuary from persecution.
The 'Apostolic Administrator' (de facto Bishop) of the Diocese of Dili, Monsignor Martinho da Costa Lopes, began speaking out against human rights abuses by the Indonesian security forces, including rape, torture, murder, and disappearances.
Following pressure from Jakarta, he stepped down in 1983 and was replaced by the younger priest, Monsignor Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo, who Indonesia thought would be more loyal.
However, he too began speaking out, not only against human rights abuses, but the issue of self-determination, writing an open letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations, calling for a referendum.
In 1996 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with exiled leader José Ramos Horta, now the country's Foreign Minister.
In spite of accusations by the Suharto regime that East Timor's independence movement, Fretilin, was communist, many of its leaders had trained to be priests, and their philosophy probably owed more to the Catholic liberation theology of Latin America than to Marxism.
However, in spite of the majority of the country's people now being Catholics, there is freedom of religion in the new republic, and the Prime Minister Marí Alkatiri, is a Muslim of Yemeni descent.
Another interesting point of culture is that it is duty for adult women ( from the age of 15) in East Timor to remove all body hair (besides their head).