The Literature of Timor-Leste

When it comes to Literature, East Timor is definitely not the first country that comes to mind. In fact, most people don’t even know about the country. I chose Timor Leste because I wanted to expose people to the culture of East Timor, and I wanted to learn more about the literature of my ‘people’.

Country Analysis

Overview and Demographics

Timor-Leste, known as East Timor in foreign countries and officially as the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste, is a country located in South East Asia. It shares half of the island of Timor with Indonesia. It’s capital city is Dili. The country is made up of a diverse selection of different landscapes; its highest point belongs to the mountain Gunung Tata Mai Lau (Mt. Tatatmailau) standing at 2963 metres. The national languages of Timor Leste are Tetum and Portuguese; however languages such as English, Indonesian and Hakka and 50 others are spoken.

The current population of Timor-Leste is 1,328,233 (as of 24/08/18). The official currency of Timor Leste is the United States Dollar, but the Australian Dollar, the Portuguese Escudo (Portugal’s currency before the introduction of the Euro) and the Indonesian Rupiah are also accepted.


The first people in East Timor was believed to have migrated almost 42000 years ago.

In the 1600’s, the first European colonisation of East Timor occured. This was done by the Portugese. In 1749, the island of Timor was split into two sectors; the Dutch took the West and the Portuguese took the East. During WW2, Timor became occupied by the Japanese until Japan was defeated. It fell, again, under the ownership of Portugal.

Photo Source: British Broadcasting Corporation

After the Carnation Revolution of Portugal, East Timor aimed to become independent. FRETILIN announced the independence of East Timor on November 28, 1975. In less than than two weeks, Indonesia invaded and occupied East Timor. This lead to a conflict both by local and international forces in support of the Timorese. East Timor became officially independent in 2002 on Sepember 27th, supported by the U.N.

Literature History

Perhaps the most lacking part of East Timor’s literature is the number of it. This means it was incredibly difficult to find anything for the literature, let alone the history of it.

Due to the Indonesian, Portuguese and Dutch influence on the country, which can be seen in the culture, it could be plausible to say that the literature of East Timor could overlap from this culture. The Bible, which came from the religion of Catholicism, is read in East Timor, after Catholicism was mostly brought in by the Portuguese.

Of the authors and poets whom identify as (and pieces which are indentified as) East Timorese, the most famous is Xanana Gusmão. He was the first president of East Timor, and one of the people most dedicated to the independence of East Timor. Both domestically, by the Government and the people, as well internationally, he is referred to as the most literary important person in the history of East Timor . Xanana Gusmão is recognised for his poetry, and is often called the Poet Warrior. Some of his most famous poetry include Grandfather Crocodile, (which will be analysed below).

Xanana Gusmão

The most famous book published by East Timor would belong to Luís Cardoso. The book is called The Crossing.

Other famous writers is Jose Ramos-Horta and Bishop Carlos FX Belo, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate who wrote numerous peaces demanding the independence of East Timor.

Jose Ramos-Horta

Short Story Analysis

Antara Jalan Jaksa dan Lovina by Sunaryono Basuki Ks

Antara Jalan Jaksa dan Lovina (Between Jalan Jaksa and Lovina) is a romance story studied in the East Timorese equivalent of a English class. The story is written in Indonesian due to how Timor Leste was forced to study Indonesian, and also in how they lacked writers in its rural communities.

The story begins with a young girl named Ilse (Elsa) meeting with her Nana (someone who is older than their parents) in a local pub. There, she meets a rich, white tourist named Murphy who is an associate of Nana. There, Nana offers Ilse a job at her company working as a tour guide. Ilse siezes the opportunity to work for Nana, and she takes Murphy with her to Bali. It is here that, after numerous weeks in Bali, Murphy falls in love with Ilse, but there’s one problem; Ilse is not interested because she has a boyfriend.

The main theme behind this story is carpe diem. In the story, there are multiple times when the main characters were forced to seized an opportunity. These include examples such Ilse taking the chance of getting a job and Murphy making the decision to buy a house in Bali. The story is written in a gloomy mood, due to how there is some sense of sadness written into the story, but also moments of happiness.

The Diary of Amandio Gomes from From Timor-Leste to Australia by Jan Trezise

The Diary of Amandio Gomes tells the story of political target Amandio Gomes and his journey from East Timor to his eventual home in Melbourne. From this story, it can be learnt that the refugees from East Timor were not just people escaping from the Indonesian army, but also people who were the political targets from the previous Portuguese governments. These people were sent to other Portuguese Colonies.

This diary tells of how Amandio Gomes was forced to leave East Timor, or Portguese Timor, after he became a political opponent of the state. He believed that the people of Timor should be their own independent people, and sent multiple letters to the Portuguese government. This caught their attention, and he was forced to leave. He escaped to Mozambique, and later when the Carnation Revolution occurred, to Portugal. He later moved to Australia with his family, and later, after the Indonesian occupation, returned to Timor Leste.

The major theme of this story is resilience, and how Gomes and his family were able to overcome the many oppression they and the rest of East Timor had experienced. Despite having to change their living style many times, after having to escape to Mozambique, Portugal and later Australia, the family never gave up on both themselves but also on the independence of the Timorese. The style of the diary is written in a more biographical style, possibly indicating some editing by Jan Trezise.

Poetry Analysis

“Grandfather Crocodile”

by Xanana Gusmão

For Marta B. Neves, Lisbon

The legend says

and who am I to disbelieve!

The sun perched atop the sea

opened its eyes

and with its rays

indicated a way

From the depths of the ocean

a crocodile in search of a destiny

spied the pool of light, and there he surfaced

Then wearily, he stretched himself out in time

and his lumpy hide was transformed

into a mountain range

where people were born

and where people died

Grandfather crocodile

– the legend says

and who am I to disbelieve

that he is Timor!

This is a poetic retelling of the Timorese Legend “The Crocodile Story”. To the East Timorese, the crocodile is a significant creature. In their culture, the crocodile is a relative of theirs and nothing to fear. This is due to how they believe, in “The Crocodile Story”, that a crocodile sacrificed himself to form the island of Timor. Gusmao used this poem to show the independence of the Timorese. They call the crocodile ‘Grandfather’ and they state they are a crocodile, rather than Portuguese or Indonesian. This shows the determination of the Timorese to become an independent people.


by Santina


Don’t talk about justice

Let’s count how many


gravestones there are spread across Loro’sae

Don’t talk about


Let’s debate about how much

Real estate that we will develop

Over the gravestones of human beings

Who were sacrificed for justice

Don’t talk about facts

Let’s discuss about

Whether that slaughter was fictitious

This is a poem discussing whether peace and reconciliation is worth more than the justice the East Timorese people deserve. An analysis by Nathan A. Thompson discusses how the poem is specifically structured to imitate the conflict behind its context (with its lack of a pattern in both rhyme, word count and general structure), and the massacre. From this poem, it can be learnt that some of the Timorese people do not believe that there was enough justice for them, as they believed that those who were sacrificed for justice are simply being ‘destroyed’ and turned into real estate.

“One Minute Silence”

by Borja da Costa

Be silent
valleys and springs
rivers and streams
stony ways
and grassy reaches,
be silent

Be silent
birds of the air
and waves of the sea
winds that blow
and sands that flow
in lands that no-one owns,
be silent

Be silent
canes and bamboos
bushes and eucalypts
palms and grasses
endless verdure
of tiny Timor
be silent

Be silent

your silence, our silence


It is a time for silence

for the silenced time

for the lifetimes lost

the lives given







“Be Silent” is a poem dedicated to giving one minute of silence regarding the violence experienced by the Timorese. It tells everyone to be silent and to respect the people who gave their lives for the liberation of Timor Leste. What is specifically shown in this poem is that the Timorese will never forget the sacrifices made by their people for the liberation and formation of the country. It also tells how the land of Timor should be united and owned together, not owned by individual companies.

“East Timor Lament “


Craggy and forbidding

Rock faces climb out of sight

clung to by stubborn vines

parched meadows roll down

and up toward the clouds

searching more desperately each day

for the face of the mountain

named Mundo Perdido

Below the land falls slowly toward Baucau

lethargic island pearl

and the Wetar straits

evaporating into midday below

hills are dotted

with mouldy white vestiges

of an Iberian empire

that withered for four centuries

toothless and stubble faced

it clutched its farthest tropical outpost

in drooling dreamy oblivion

I rattle the glass doors

of the Escuela do Reino de Venilale

but they won’t let me in

worn school benches of another age
sit idle

while a new generation plays tentatively

under a solitary tree

in the dusty courtyard

I see only the young

I see no one who remembers

Off the rocky roadside

I peer into crevices

for traces of bones

of tens of thousands

become rock and soil

and sediment

foundation of an unborn nation

softly voices wail on the wind

for someone to honour them

to weep for them

late in the solitude of night

but they cannot be mourned

without proof they existed

the mountain has absorbed the blood

the horror and the tender memory

of mothers and fathers

yielding only piercing silence

and the voices of aimless youth

brash in their defiance

angry at a future

dangled before them

and at once withheld

by grinning Jakarta generals

the cool breeze whispers:

Mundo Perdido

The “East Timor Lament” is a poem describing East Timor and its history. It goes through its numeral occupations, such as discussing the discrimination done by the Portuguese towards segregation. It also tells of the slaughter done by the Indonesian towards the Timorese people, with the numerous descriptions of death and murder. This poem is really telling of the Timorese experiences felt during these events and shows how the Timorese longed to be freed. ‘Mundo Perdido’ means ‘lost world’, and in this context it is believable to state that they are discussing the world that they had before the events such as the Santa Cruz massacre.



Inan — Liurai-feto Timor

Buibere inan,

Inan — Molok rai loron hahi,

sei o matan hateke hau matan

ho hamanasa, o dehan

“Hau hadomi o oan”

Inan — Liurai-feto Timor

O oan hotu sei tane o

Tamba oan Timor hatene

O mak nia doben

O mak nia inan

Liurai-feto Timor

Buibere inan

“Mother” [translated]

Queen Mother of Timor

Voice of the mothers

Mother of the natives

You look at my eyes

You smile and tell

“I love my children”

Queen Mother of Timor

All the children will support you

Because all of Timor’s children know

You are the one love

You are the mother

Queen of Timor

Voice of the mothers

This is a simple poem, written in Tetum, called “Inan”. Tetum is a language which is used by the natives of Timor Leste, and currently does not have a Google Translate option. This meant that individuals who could speak Tetum was specifically sought out to assist in this poem. The basic point of this poem is to tell of how the land of Timor takes care of its people, and also how its children will support it. It states how Timor is the one love of their people.

“Viva Timor Leste!”


Viva Timor Leste!
Timor dos desterrados
Timor enterrado
Timor dos herois mortos e silenciosos
Timor dos “ai-laran”
onde “aifunan-fuik” crescam
entre os ossos brancos dos guerilheiros

Viva Timor Leste!
Timor dos orfaos,
das criancas vivas
com vidas mortas,
mudas e silenciosas

Viva Timor Leste!
Timor dos inocentes e dos pecadores,
que nunca adormecam nas noites calorosas
com ventanias arrefecedoras
que vem pela praia de Dili
O vento dos Pescadores

Viva Timor Leste!
Timor traida, invadida e violada
Timor dos jogos politicos
dos comunistas, dos democratas e dos fascistas
Timor dos integracionistas

Viva Timor Leste
Timor dos Liurais com mil “atan” que os sirvam como reis!
Viva Timor Leste!
Timor dos filhos traidos,
das filhas violadas,
das maes viuvas que caem no chao,
torturadas, esmagadas de vestidos rasgados
Timor do 12 de novembro
O Timor esquecido
O verdadeiro Timor

Viva Timor Leste!
Timor dos Leste Timorenses!

Viva Timor Leste

Viva East Timor! [translated]

Viva East Timor!

Exiles of the Timor

Timor buried

Dead and silent heroes of Timor

“Forest” of Timor

where “wild flowers” grow

between the white bones of the warriors

Viva East Timor!

Orphans of Timor

Life of the children

with the life and death,

mute and silent

Viva East Timor!

The innocent and sinners of Timor,

who never fall asleep on warm nights

with cooling winds

which comes from the beach of Dili

The wind of the fishermen.

Viva East Timor!

Timor was betrayed, invaded and raped

The political games of Timor

Communists, Democrats and Fascists

Integration of Timor

Viva East Timor

The king of Timor with 1000 slaves who serve the king

Viva East Timor!

They brought the children of Timor

of the raped daughters,

of the widows who’ve fallen to the ground,

tortured, crushed torn dresses

November 12 Timor

The forgotten Timor

The real Timor

Viva East Timor!

East Timor is Timorese!

‘Viva Timor Leste’ is a poem written in Portuguese that salutes and celebrates the liberation of East Timor. Each stanza talks about a different sub-group within the victims of East Timor. It talks about how the wildlands of Timor Leste are covered in flora only because of the fertiliser from the dead bodies. Orphans, of which suffer disabilities from the occupation are mentioned, and so are the criminals. It also talks about how it doesn’t care about the politics, only the liberation of East Timor. The mentioning of 1000 slaves refers to how the colonisation of Timor came from the Portuguese. The largest stanza refers to specifics within the Indonesian occupation, such as the raping of daughters and widows, as well as November 12. November 12 is a public holiday which remembers the Santa Cruz massacre. “Viva Timor Leste” can be stated as poem which almost sounds like an inspirational victory speech. The most significant line of this poem is ‘East Timor is Timorese’, where it obviously shows that East Timor is Timorese rather than Indonesian or Portuguese.


From this project, I have learnt a lot more regarding the history of East Timor, and the receptiveness towards their occupations.

From purely studying the overview and demographics of East Timor, I learnt nothing new. This is probably due to the fact that I already had most of this rough knowledge about Timor Leste.

During my research about the literature history of Timor Leste, I learnt something really negative. There hasn’t been much exposure of East Timor to the world, besides that of the troubled history. There is minimal information regarding the culture, let alone the literature, of East Timor. No-one really knows about the country because of how young it is. It’s the third youngest country in the world.

The short stories did tell me a few things. The first thing I noticed was how difficult it is to get East Timorese books and short stories internationally. There is literally no books I could find without having to spend 100’s. The second book told me a lot of information about the people. It told about the individual fight for independence, as well as the migration of the people. All I knew from before was the migration of my sub-group of people.

The poetry told me more about the grittier side of East Timor and the conflicts. It really demonstrates the determination of the Timorese people to find independence.


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