In many respects the cultural aspects of the Timorese people can be categorised in the two distinct sectors of societal and creative.

Societal Aspects of the Fatalaku Community

The Fatalaku Community relates to the group of Timorese in the east, predominantly Lautem, who speak the Papuan based Fatalaku. Across the Fataluku speaking people, a hierarchy principle organises society and decision making power, this is known as ratu. There are three sets of inherited classes, or castes represented by the terms ratu, paca, and akanu. Ratu forms the highest grouping and the settled landscape of Lautem proliferates in named ratu groups (kono ratu, cailoro ratu, latu lohu ratu). Paca represent a subordinate ‘younger sibling’ (noko) clan category and akanu represents the third and lower ‘slave’ caste whose members derive from ancestors who became war captives or who were sold or bankrupted into slavery in former times. Conventionally, inter-marriage between these levels is denounced and although modernist pressures over recent decades have challenged the basis of these hierarchically ordered cultural categories, their persistence continues to influence everyday life, particularly in decision-making where the older ratu male siblings hold authority. Many people adopt the ratu as a more generic label of social and familial identity and deny affiliation to paca or akanu. 

Post Independence has provided the opportunity to engage in elaborate ritual and symbolic activity in Lautem. It has also seen the re-emergence of a range of customary practices previously subsumed and denied under Indonesian rule. These practices include the emergence of traditional class distinctions, the reinstating of the bride-wealth (known as the barlake) and a renewed interest in customary land tenures and assertions of landed authority. 

(Source: Plan Baseline Study, 2008)

Creative Aspects of Cultural Timor Leste

Two decades of national resistance to occupation and prior Portugese colonialism have provided  Timorese people with united, strong and diverse cultural beliefs. Over 70% of the population lives in rural areas with limited access to information and a means of communication, however there is still a powerful connection between individuals, communities, the environment, history and cultural traditions. Like many cultures in the region, Timorese people share a common set of beliefs and values linked to belonging to a certain place and Uma Lulik (sacred house).

Due to the various forms of unrest in the regions, many sights and objects of cultural significance were destroyed. Due in part to this and a general push to promote their nationalism, the government has been highly active in guiding and protecting culture as a form of identity and also embedding it into their economic development. The important role of traditional arts such as tais weaving, pottery and wood carving, is clear in many districts, especially rurally.

Timor-Leste is well placed to develop its old and new cultural practices into creative industries that generate income, jobs and export earnings and, at the same time, contribute to community building and cultural diversity. Creative industries span a wide range of practices that are considered part of the creative economy, including weaving, carving, drawing and painting, design, music, acting and all aspects of theatre production, dance, film, radio and television production, writing, publishing and advertising. What these practices have in common is that they involve using creativity and cultural knowledge to generate income and wealth. Timor-Leste has a very substantial and diverse cultural heritage and are linguistically versatile. Increasing the national, regional and global visibility of their many traditions and contemporary creative practices is increasingly important to the overall image and identity of the nation. This will contribute to a sense of nationhood and national pride, the development of an export-oriented creative economy and tourism. These are significant government considerations.

Concurrently, the Government has recognised that it is important to preserve the traditional architectural heritage, particularly Uma Lulik - the sacred houses around which much community life revolves. Recently passed Basic Law on Cultural Heritage will protect, preserve and enhance cultural heritage. Sacred houses have already been restored in four districts: Lautém, Oecussi, Bobonaro and Ainaro.