Some cultural notes, humors and myths from Timor-Leste

Dear readers,

The following is just a personal interest which I thought I put up to share it with you. I would also love to hear your views on them or perhaps if you have any other cultural notes, humors and myths from Timor-Leste that you would like to share. If you do, please share it (or them) and I will add it (or them) to this list and put it up.



Cultural notes, Humors and Myths of Timor-Leste

Humor: People who cannot control their mouths when they speak are said to have a mouth like the chicken’s anus. The story is that a chicken’s anus is constantly moving through the muscles that control it. However a man who talks too much is also said to have the lips of a woman. Apparently women talk too much in Timor.

Myth: I don’t know if this should be classified as a myth or a fact but it always works for me. Cool breezes can be created by whistling. This is specially helpful in Timor’s often barmy and icky climate.

Myth: You should not whistle during the night as it you would be inviting bad spirits.

Cultural note: Ladies should always accept a dance when invited by gentlemen at parties. If a lady refuses the invitation from a man, she should also refuse the invitation from the next man. If she refuses the invitation from the first man but accepts the invitation from the second man, it will be seen as disrespect to the first man. This often leads to brawls.

Myth: When stepping out from your home or any other house and you sneeze, it’s a sign of bad omen. You should consider staying for another few minutes before leaving.

Myth: When you are walking somewhere to do something and you trip on your left foot, it means bad luck. If you are leaving your house or any house, you should considering changing your pans. Tripping on your right foot is OK.

Myth: When a leaf falls near you and the leaf lands on its back, it’s a sigh of good luck.

Myth: You should not point at rainbows because your index finger or your hand will be deformed to a shape like that of the rainbow.

Cultural note: Never address anyone older than you, anyone with a respectful position with “you” whether in English, Portuguese or in Tetum.

Myth: The island of Timor is shaped like a crocodile because it was created following the death of a crocodile. How did the people know that the island is shaped like a crocodile? The tail being at Lospalos and the head at Kupang. The story of the crocodile is like this: A young man finds a sick crocodile and helps it to recover. To thank the young man or boy, the crocodile takes him to travel around the world. Their travel takes them to many places and many years until one day the crocodile grows to be very old and hungry. They were in the middle of the ocean and lost. The crocodile is tempted to eat the boy but realises instead that it was the boy who saved him from certain death in the past. As both of them grow weaker and no help is in sight, the crocodile decides that he should sacrifice himself to save the boy. So the crocodile dies and his body is transformed into an island. The boy is saved and inherits the island, the island of the crocodile, becoming the first inhabitant and the first Timorese.

Myth: Crocodiles are considered as sacred in Timor-Leste because they are said to be the ancestors of the Timorese. See the Crocodile story above. In some parts of Timor where crocodiles are found, it is said that if you are not an honest person, you can be identified by a crocodile and attacked or killed.

Cultural note: The traditional Lautem house is taken universally in Timor-Leste, east or west, as a cultural icon representing every East Timorese from every corner. Models of the house are made into gold pendants, engravings, paintings, etc. It is also used widely by every East Timorese to represent their culture.

Myth: You should not wear bright red during storms because you would be a lightning target.

Myth: In the southern seas, or the Tasi Mane (lit. male sea), you should not wear bright red as you would attract giant and destructive waves like a tsunami.

Cultural note: The Sea to the north of Timor is called Tasi Feto (female sea) and to the south is called the Tasi Mane (male sea). Tasi Mane is considered as rough and Tasi Feto as tamed.

Myth: The term Caladi comes from the Portuguese word for calado, or the quiet one. Originally Caladi is used to refer to the Mambae speakers of the central regions near the Ramelau cordillera whom are believed to be docile and cooperative. In contrast to Caladi is the word Firaku which is believed to come from the Portuguese expression vira o cú or to turn one’s backside. The Firaku, mostly referring to the Makasa’e speakers of Baucau and Viqueque, are said to be stubborn and uncooperative. The Firaku would turn his back “backside” on anyone who disagrees with. In today’s lingo, Firaku is associated with the “easterners” and Caladi with the “westerners.” A further reduction of Firaku is the word Irak (Iraq) to connote the “easterners”, in particular the Makasa’e speakers with terrorism and terrorists.

There is however a more rational explanation for the origin of the two terms. The word Firaku comes from the Makasa’e term fi raku, which means my friend or my brother. It’s exactly the same as what you would say in English, “hey buddy”. Whenever Makasa’e speakers meet they say “fi raku”. I am not sure if this term is still current. The word Caladi on the other hand is said to come from the Malay word for tubers (yams and other edible roots), keladi. The regions around the Mambae area produce tubers aplenty. Malay speaking traders must have been dealing with the Mambae speakers more often when it comes to trade in tubers. The word for sweet potato in Tetum, fehuk, is also used to refer to someone as being stupid.

Myth: When sitting on a table, do not sit at the corner especially if you are unmarried. For the yet to be married, sitting at the corner will lead to a marriage to a buan or witches. So sitting in a corner is generally avoided. Round tables are not as complicated.

Cultural note: Never give anything to another person or receive anything using your left hand. It is considered as disrespectful.

Myth: Some fruit bearing trees will carry a curse in what the locals call horok. The tree owner would hang an object (egg shells, black cloths, pieces of hair, tree barks, etc.) on the tree and put a spell on it. Whoever eats from the tree without the owner’s permission (to remove the spell) will get sick.

Myth: There is a belief in a magic spell that would make one invisible to the ordinary people. This spell is called matahelik and is used mostly by thieves.

Myth: In Lautem region, the snake is revered. According to the local myth, in the distant past some of their relatives transformed themselves into snake.

Myth: Cats are regarded as sacred. If you kill a cat, you will be damned for up to seven generations.

Myth: During wakes and funerals, cats are locked up or kept away from the dead body as far possible. If the cat jumps over the dead body, the dead body will awaken and be commanded by bad spirits.

Cultural note: Dog meat has become a delicacy in Timor-Leste. However this culture was introduced by the Indonesians from Sulawesi in the late 80s, when the first dog meat restaurant was opened in Colmera suburb.

Cultural note: See an article by Elizabeth Traube, “Unpaid Wages: Local Narratives and the Imagination of the Nation” (The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology Vol. 8, No. 1, March 2007, pp. 9-25). Abstract: This paper explores how official nationalist discourse is appropriated and reworked in local constructions. It draws on ethnographic fieldwork in the district of Aileu, East Timor, conducted before the Indonesian invasion and after the 1999 referendum. Bridging these two periods is a Mambai narrative tradition about a Christ-like figure named Tat Felis, who comes to Aileu with the first missionaries and is persecuted by local chiefs. In different ways, the paper argues, Mambai have entwined the story of the suffering inflicted on him by their ancestral chiefs with the suffering endured by the people in the nationalist struggle. Such narrativised ordeals evoke a cultural code of reciprocity in which whoever suffers to bring something forth must be repaid. In referencing their own enduring obligations to Tat Felis, people implicitly or explicitly remind nationalist leaders that the nation was purchased with their blood.

Cultural note: Beware of Timorese humor. They are really boring!!!

Cultural note: Any vice is a bad vice and in Tetum language, most of the vices are constructed from their root-word (a noun or a verb) by adding the suffix –teen. Teen is a morpheme of tee, a word denoting all kinds of waste, human, animal or objects. So a smoker becomes tabaku-teen, a thief becomes a na’ok-teen, a drunkard becomes a lanu-teen and a stupid person becomes beik-teen. If you are labeled with any word that ends in –teen, it is not a compliment.

Myth: In English there is a saying that goes, “If you find a penny, pick it up. All day long gives you good luck.” In Timor-Leste if you find a penny, you better not touch it and leave it where it is. According to local customs, if you have an incurable disease you can get rid of it by passing it on to other people. So you do this by rubbing a penny on the disease, or all over your body, plus a little bit of hamulak (a Timor prayer) and throw it away; hopefully someone will find it and keep it. And when they do, they won’t only pick up the penny but also the disease with them. Thus you will be cured.

Myth: The number three is regarded as a bad number. Taking pictures of three people, giving three things to someone, things that come in pairs of three, etc., are generally avoided.


  1. Anonymous said...
    Já deu uma olhada ao blog .
    Ela fala sobre as lindas pedras de Timor.
    cobramalai said...
    first of all, thanx for the compilation of myths and cultural notes. being timorese descendent, having lived and worked in timor for a few years, its always interesting to find new things.
    however, there are some u should review, for i do not believe u can generalize it to the point of saying those are "cultural notes".

    "Cultural note: Never give anything to another person or receive anything using your left hand. It is considered as disrespectful."
    this is true for muslims. 90% of timorese population is christian. eventhough some timorese might follow such rule (due mainly to pragmatic reasons of higienic conditions) its a misinterpretation to generalize it.

    "Cultural note: Dog meat has become a delicacy in Timor-Leste. However this culture was introduced by the Indonesians from Sulawesi in the late 80s, when the first dog meat restaurant was opened in Colmera suburb."
    from portuguese times, when trade and comercial activities were mainly conducted by chinese and malay, that dog meat is eaten in timor. but not by timorese. at least, not by the majority of the timorese. and it is not because dog meat is rare (definition of delicacy is actually the product being hard to get, or extremely dificult to cook), but simply because for most timorese it is disgusting.
    Anonymous said...
    Chistes o anedotas en lengua Tetun
    Anonymous said...
    Sé maka manán no sé maka lakon iha formasaun governu foun?

    Hafoin eleisaun parlamentár iha fulan Juñu ne’e, patidu na’in 3 (agora 4 tanba koligasaun PSD-ASDT fahi tiha ba partidu rua ketak-ketak) forma tiha koligasaun ida naran AMP. Maske Fretilin hetan ho númeru votus boot liu iha eleisaun, partidu ki’ik 3 seluk forma tiha koligasaun ida hodi aprezenta sira nia fasaun hanesan maioria iha parlamentu: CNRT, ASDT-PSD ho PD. CNRT hetan kadeira 18, koligasaun ASDT-PSD hetan 11 no PD hetan 8. Foin daudauk Prezidente da Repúblika, José Ramos-Horta husu tiha AMP hodi forma governu.

    AMP nia aktu uluk liu bainhira hola fatin iha parlamentu maka halo akordu ida hodi tau prezidente PD nian, Fernando ‘La’Sama’ Araújo ba sira nia lista kandidatu ba prezidente parlamentu nasionál. Fernando manán halimar de’it kontra kandidatu Fretilin nian, Aniceto Guterres. Tuir fali, teste boot liu ba koligasaun AMP nian maka formasaun governu, no iha ne’e ita bele haree sé maka lakon no sé maka manán.

    Hosi partidu CNRT, nu’udár faksaun dominante, José Alexandre Gusmão ka “Xanana” maka sai Primeiru Ministru. Tuir fali maka boot partidu Mudansa, ex-membru Fretilin, ne’ebé fó apoiu ba CNRT hodi manán eleisaun, José Luis Guterres hanesan vise-primeiru ministru. José Luis Guterres ita bele dehan katak nia ne’e partidu CNRT nian. Maibé maske nia hetan kargu hanesan vise, nia laiha pasta ida.

    Hanesan koletivu ida ne’ebé rekolla ema independente barak, ita bele dehan katak ema independente sira iha lista governu foun ne’e mesak ema ne’ebé maka besik liu ba Xanana. Emília Pires porezemplu, maske ema matenek boot no kualifikadu, uluk servisu besik ho Xanana no nia só tamak iha governu ne’e tanba Xanana maka kaer. Nelson Martins mós ema ho kualifikasaun boot, maibé laiha esperiénsia polítika. Ne’e be sé maka sei domina Nelson nia servisu maka Xanana. Nelson sei hala’o polítika CNRT nian. Nun’e mós ba João Câncio Freitas ho ema independente sira seluk. Ho figura Xanana nian ne’ebé ema independente sira ne’e foti aas hanesan Maromak, ita bele dehan katak Xanana ho CNRT maka sei domina hotu sira.

    Importante tebetebes mós atu nota kata ema CNRT nian seluk maka kaer setór rekursus naturais, ne’ebé kaer mós setór ida importante liu iha Timor-Leste, rekursus petrolíferus. (Irónikamente, Emília Pires kaer setór finansas, Alfredo Pires (Emília nia alin) maka kaer setór petrolífera, ne’ebé hanesan setór ida maka sei lori rendimentu boot-liu ba Timor-Leste. Brother and sister double act!).

    Maibé partidu ne’ebé maka hetan fatin barak liu iha governu relativu ho ninia proporsaun eleitorál, maka partidu PSD. Uluk nana’in ita sei haree lai oinsá maka partidu rua ne’e fahe malu no fahe kadeira iha parlamentu laran.

    Iha ne’e ita labele halo konfuzaun ona katak ASDT ho PSD hamriik ketak iha parlamentu laran nu’udár partidu rua. Maske ASDT ho PSD enfrenta eleisaun hanesan koligasaun ida, i.e. hanesan partidu ida de’it, bainhira sira tama ba parlamentu nasionál, sira fahe tiha ba partidu rua. Infelizmente ba ASDT, partidu ne’e hetan de’it kadeira 5. PSD maka hetan 6. Ita bele kompriende bainhira sira balu iha ASDT dehan, tuir loloos sira maka tenke iha kadeira barak liu tanba durante eleisaun ne’e, votu barak liu ba koligasaun ASDT-PSD mai hosi rejiaun ne’ebé tradisionálmemte vota ba ASDT.

    Depois ita mós bele kestiona se koligasaun ida, ne’ebé bá eleisaun parlamentár ho lista ida de’it hanesan partidu úniku, karik sira bele fila an tiha ba partidu rua? Ida ne’e iha lójika ka lae? Oinsá maka sira hatene partidu ida ne’ebé maka tenke hetan kadeira hira? Partidu ida ne’ebé maka hetan votus barak liu?

    Agora hanesan ne’e: se koligasaun ASDT-PSD fahe tiha ba partidu rua hafoin eleisaun, ne’e signifika katak iha AMP nia laran sira na’in rua sai fali fasaun menór tuir PD. PD maka fasaun boot liu iha AMP tuir CNRT tanba sira iha kadeira 8 kompara ho PSD 6 no ASDT 5. Ida ne’e tenke refleta iha atividade ne’ebé AMP sei hala’o ba oin hanesan formasaun governu foun.

    Agora fila fali ba formasaun governu foun. Iha pozisaun ministeriál, pozisaun seniór iha governu RDTL foun, PSD hetan pelomenus kadeira 3 no kadeira xave de’it. Zacarias Costa hetan Ministru dos Negósius Estranjeirus (Constâncio Pinto bá ne’ebé?), Lúcia Lobato hetan Ministru da Justisa (Benevides Correia lae?) no João Gonçalves hetan Ministru da Ekonomia e Dezenvolvimentu (haluhan tiha Lucas da Costa?). ASDT hetan de’it kadeira ida ho Gil Alves, ne’ebé okupa kargu Ministru ba Turizmu, Komérsiu ho Indústria. (Gil Alves nia negósiu bee-hemu nian ne’e la’o mós la loos, agora nia kaer fali turizmu, komérsiu ho indústria?).

    PD hetan saida? Ministru da Agrikultura ho Peskas, ne’ebé AMP (lee Xanana) fó ba Mariano Sabino. Ita bele kompriende tansá maka Mariano Sabino rejeita tiha pozisaun ne’e maske ninia formasaun iha duni enjeñaria agrikultura. Fonte balu dehan Mariano Sabino sente nia an joven liu no inesperiente, tan ne’e nia prefere hala’o servisu iha parlamentu laran hanesan deputadu; ka prefere sai sekretáriu ba asuntu juventude nian. Fonte seluk hatete katak iha diferensa interna iha PD laran. Maibé ita labele ignora katak iha formasaun governu foun ne’e, PD nu’udár fasaun boot liu tuir CNRT, pelomenus tenke iha balansu ba membru governu foun ne’e. Ne’e be ita la bele iha surpreza karik Mariano Sabino rejeita ninia kargu hanesan protestu ida ba formasaun ne’e. (Iha tan membru PD ida seluk ne’ebé rejeita mós ninia pozisaun). Sinais ba ruptura iha AMP? Hein hodi haree.

    Proporsionálmente, evidente katak sé maka manán iha formasaun governu foun ne’e maka PSD. Ita tenke admite iha ne’e katak karik PSD la halo koligasaun ho ASDT, kadeira 2 mós PSD sei la hetan. Irónikamente, iha governu foun PSD maka sai segunda forsa dominante tuir CNRT.

    Sé maka lakon maka ASDT, ne’ebé ajuda PSD moris maibé to’o ikus lakon tiha ninia kadeira balu iha parlamentu no lakon mós ninia fatin iha formasaun governu foun.

    Maibé sé maka lakon boot liu iha formasaun ba governu foun ne’e maka PD, ne’ebé nein pasta ida nia hetan, maske nia maka segunda fasaun iha AMP laran. Oinsá maka governu AMP ne’e la’o ba oin? Dala ida tan, hein hodi haree...
    Anonymous said...
    Polítika iha Timor Loro Sa'e
    Friday, Aug 3, 2007

    Mari Alkatiri husu kubanu sira atu mai hanorin maubere beik sira hakiak fahi. Nia dehan katak fahi kubanu sempre hahoris mínimu fahi-oan sanulu dala ida. Kursu hotu tiha, kubanu sira fila ba Kuba no to'os-na'in timoroan sira hotu hein hela fahi-inan ida atu hahoris. Nia hahoris fahi-oan neen. Xefe projetu nian ta'uk atu fó-hatene númeru ki'ik ne'e ba xefe-suku, entaun nia bosok dehan katak fahi-oan hitu foin moris. Xefe suku ta'uk atu fó-hatene númeru ki'ik ne'e ba administradór distritu, entaun nia bosok dehan katak fahi-oan ualu foin moris. Administradór distritu ta'uk atu fó-hatene númeru ki'ik ne'e ba Ministru Agrikultura Estanislau, entaun nia bosok dehan katak fahi-oan sia foin moris. Ministru Agrikultura Estanislau ta'uk atu fó-hatene númeru ki'ik ne'e ba Kamarada Primeiru Ministru Mari Alkatiri, entaun nia bosok dehan katak fahi-oan sanulu foin moris. Primeiru Ministru Mari Alkatiri manda fahe fahi-oan sira hanesan ne'e: “Fahi-oan neen ba Komité Sentrál Fretilin no fahi-oan haat ba povu!”





    Mari ba konsulta si'ik-na'in ida no husu:

    "¿Ha'u sei mate iha sá loron?"

    "Kamarada, Ita-Boot sei mate iha loron-boot ida ba nasaun ida-ne'e".
    Patriotizmu iha rain Timor-Leste:

    Profesór iha eskola husu ba Ameu:

    "Ameu, ¿sé mak ó-nia inan?"

    - "Pátria doben, profesór".

    "No ¿ó-nia aman?"

    "Kamarada Primeiru-Ministru Mari, profesór".

    "No ¿ ó hakarak sai saida, Ameu?"

    "Ha'u... oan-kiak, profesór."

    Kapitalizmu no Komunizmu

    "Azé... ¿Saida maka Kapitalizmu?", profesora husu.

    "Kapitalizmu katak balde-lixu nakonu ho karreta, brinkedu, hahán oioin".
    "Resposta di'ak tebes, Azé, ¿no Komunizmu?"
    "Balde-lixu hanesan, maibé mamuk".
    "Profesora, ha'u deskonfia Adão i Eva afinál ema-Timór".
    "Ameu, ¿Tanba sá maka ó hanoin nune'e?"
    "Tanba sira la iha roupa, sira la'o ain-tanan, sira iha de'it masán ida atu han maibé sira-nia na'i la fó, maibé sira-nia na'i dehan beibeik ba sira katak sira hela iha paraízu".


    Ema barak dehan katak Horta salva Timor-Leste ne'ebé besik atu monu ba rai-naruk iha 2006. Bainhira Estalislau to'o nia haruka kedas povu tomak la'o hakat ida ba oin...


    Mari Alkatiri ho Lu Olu sa'e elikópteru atu ba pasiár uitoan. Mari dehan ba Lu Olu:

    - Ha'u atu soe osan-tahan dólar ruanulu ida ba kraik no halo timoroan ida sai kontente tebes.

    Lu Olo dehan:

    - Nu'usá ó la soe osan-tahan dólar sanulu rua no halo timoroan na'in-rua sai kontente?

    Mari hatán:

    - Lae. Ha'u sei soe osan-tahan dólar lima haat no halo timoroan na'in-haat sai kontente.

    Pilotu elikópteru nian baruk tiha ona rona sira, no dehan:

    - Nu'usá se imi na'in-rua haksoit ba kraik no halo timoroan rihun barak kontente?!


    "¿Fatin ida-ne'ebé maka di'ak liu atu hakoi Kamarada Sekretáriu-Geral Mari Alkatiri?", mestra husu ba alunu sira.

    - Iha Prasa Mean, hamutuk ho Lenine – Ameu dehan.

    - Iha Fransa, besik Napoleão nia rate – Azé heteten.

    - Iha Santu Sepulkru, hamutuk ho Jesus Cristo – Maria dehan.

    - Lae, lae, lae,... ¡ Iha-ne'ebá la bele, keta halo be nia moris hi'as liu tiha loron tolu!!!
    Anonymous said...
    Hey this is cool, I like what you've written. Can you please forward it to me. I'd like to send it to some friends to read. Thanks
    Sayuri Mashimoto
    Cultural Myths said...
    Humor: People who cannot control their mouths when they speak are said to have a mouth like the chicken’s anus. The story is that a chicken’s anus is constantly moving through the muscles that control it. However a man who talks too much is also said to have the lips of a woman. Apparently women talk too much in Timor.

    Myth: I don’t know if this should be classified as a myth or a fact but it always works for me. Cool breezes can be created by whistling. This is specially helpful in Timor’s often barmy and icky climate.

    I am read out your full story and find a very good lesson so keep provide such type of story and give us good lesson. also write story on Gender Stereotypes this topic.

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