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East Timor, Population

East Timor had an estimated population of 859,700 in 1996, when it was still under Indonesian control. Following the vote for independence in August 1999, violent rampages by Indonesian militia groups forced many East Timorese to flee their homes. UN peacekeeping forces arrived to restore order later that year, and many East Timorese refugees subsequently returned. The estimated population of East Timor in 2001 was 830,000. Dili has a population of 65,000 (1999 estimate). Some 92 percent of the population lives in rural areas.

Many East Timorese people are descendants of the Tetum, who traditionally inhabited the south-central area of the island. These people speak the Tetum language, a Malayo-Polynesian language of the Austronesian language family. Other smaller ethnic groups, many with their own languages, live in small, scattered communities.

Tetum and Portuguese are the official languages of East Timor. Only a small minority of the population speaks Portuguese, which was introduced when East Timor was a colony of Portugal. However, a variant of Tetum called Tetum Prasa incorporates many Portuguese loan words; it is widely spoken in and around Dili. Bahasa Indonesia and English are also spoken in the country. Literacy is relatively low in East Timor; only 43 percent of individuals aged 15 and older can read and write.

Roman Catholicism is the religion of about 90 percent of the population. Many East Timorese continue to follow traditional animist beliefs. Although Islam and Hinduism have significant followings in many parts of the Malay Archipelago, including Indonesia, neither religion is well established in East Timor.

 
 

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