Timor Leste culture

Timorese customs

Hospitality is important to Timor Leste people. If you’re offered food or drink when you meet somebody, it’s important to at least taste it but always wait for your host to take the first sip or bite. As a result of the long Portuguese period, shaking hands is expected. Women often cheek or air kiss, usually on both sides of the face It’s good form to greet others you pass on the street. And do as your mother always said: don’t put your feet up on anything.

Always ask before taking photos or video of people but usually the East Timorese are quite happy to be photographed – a sign that Timor Leste is not overrun with travelers. Say “Bele?” (“May I?” in Tetun) and you’ll likely get a smiling “bele, bele” in response, which means “yes, yes”, in contrast “Labele” would mean no and that the photo is not welcomed.

Timor Leste is a conservative, largely traditional culture with strong Christian values. Elders, church and community leaders are treated with deference. As a general rule first names are only used among close acquaintances. Otherwise use “Senhor” (for men) or “Senhora” (for women).

Timorese Dance & Music

Bits of rock country, hip-flop, rap and even reggae can all be heard in Timor Leste’s modern music. Guitars are popular and if there were garages there would be a lot of garage bands, especially in Dili.

timor dance


Instead you might say there are lots of under-trees bands across the country. No important East Timorese social gathering is complete without a band performing the types of cover songs that have been the staple of legions of globe-trotting Filipino bands to the north. Usually a generator will be found for the synthesizer and the ballads can continue long into the night.

Should you stumble upon a festival featuring traditional dancing and music, you are in for a rare treat. The likurai was primarily a Tetun dance used to welcome warriors returning from battle. Women danced with a small drum and circled the village compound where heads taken in battle were displayed.

Today it is performed by unmarried women as a courtship dance. The tebedai dance is a circle dance performed throughout Timor Leste and it is accompanied by a drum.

Source: Visit East Timor. Image: guideposttimor


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