East Timor, or Timor-Leste, celebrates its independence day on May 20 every year. The country has had a long and complicated struggle with its independence. The first proclamation of independence was signed on November 28, 1975, when the country sought independence from Portugal. However, their independence was short-lived as East Timor was quickly and violently captured by Indonesians. Up to 200,000 people died from the violence and other woes such as illness and hunger. East Timor was recognized as an independent republic by the United Nations (U.N.) in 2002 and in September of that year, the country was renamed Timor-Leste to honor its Portuguese roots.
History of East Timor Independence Day
Before Europeans appeared on the shores of East Timor, the country used to trade precious goods such as sandalwood, honey, and wax with Malaysia, India, and China. In the 16th century, Timor developed military ties with the Europeans leading to the Philippines taking a keen interest in the nation and its abundance of sandalwood. Soon after, in the mid-18th century, the Portuguese made their way to East Timor where they set up the city of Dili and declared Timor a colony.
The people of Timor revolted against the occupation. Following the 1974 Portuguese Revolution, Portugal abandoned Timor and granted independence to the country. Soon after the independence, civil war broke out between the political parties of East Timor and the newly formed nation had to go through a period of unrest. The unrest caught Indonesia’s attention and fearing the rise of communism, Indonesia attacked Timor and occupied its land. The U.N. opposed the invasion however, not much came of it — Indonesia assumed authority and would continue to control Timor’s administrative hold until 1999.
Timor’s struggle for independence gained international exposure in 1991 following the horrifying Dili massacres. Portugal, the Philippines, Australia, and other countries extended their solidarity to Timor. In 1999, the U.N. assumed administrative responsibilities of Timor. The country went to the polls in 2001 when the UN organized its first elections to form the Constituent Assembly. In 2002, Xanana Gusmão became the first president of East Timor, or Timor-Leste, as it was called following the independence of 2002.
East Timor Independence Day timeline
The earliest human remains in East Timor date back to 42,000 years ago.
The Portuguese colonize East Timor and rename it Portugal Timor.
East Timor is granted independence after constant revolting from its people.
Indonesia invades East Timor and declares it as their 27th province.
East Timor finally achieves independence after decades of violence and conflict.
East Timor takes part in its first election organized by the U.N.
Refugees return to East Timor and the country is renamed Timor-Leste.
Timor-Leste becomes a state party.
East Timor Independence Day FAQs
What is East Timor known for?
East Timor is known for diving, whale-watching, trekking, biking, great scenery, stunning mountain driving, and beautiful white-sand beaches.
Why does Timor-Leste use the U.S. dollar?
The U.S. dollar was chosen because it is a strong and stable currency and is widely used around the world. The decision to adopt the U.S.D. was made by the National Consultative Council (N.C.C.).
What was East Timor called before?
East Timor was colonized by Portugal in the 16th century and was known as Portuguese Timor until November 28, 1975.
How to Observe East Timor Independence Day
Timor-Leste is slowly being developed as a tourism hotspot with measures such as expanding the Dili airport. Independence Day is a good time to visit the island nation and take in the breathtaking views.
Learn the nation’s history
One of the best ways to celebrate any nation’s Independence Day is by learning its history. Pull up books, documentaries, and more information about the country to enrich your knowledge. You can also share this information with family and friends.
Try foods from Timor-Leste
Pork, fish, basil, and tamarind are some of the popular foods and flavorings of East Timor. Treat yourself to some traditional foods from Timor-Leste. You can buy them or try cooking the food by yourself.
5 Facts About East Timor That Will Blow Your Mind
Short life expectancy
The average life expectancy in East Timor is 48 years.
It’s sparsely populated
About 947,000 people live in East Timor.
People are multilingual
Tetum, Portuguese, Bahasa Indonesia, and English are spoken in the country.
Asia’s newest country
After its independence in 2002, East Timor became Asia’s youngest country.
A flag with meaning
East Timor’s flag has a red background (suffering) with a black triangle (colonial repression), a yellow triangle ( struggle for independence), and a white five-pointed star (hope for the future).
Why East Timor Independence Day is Important
One of the youngest nations in the world
East Timor is one of the countries to only have gained its independence in the 21st century. East Timor Independence Day celebrates the country’s struggles toward independence.
Part of modern history
East Timor is a newly independent country. Many of us remember its independence movements and how it shaped modern history.
Opportunity to raise awareness
East Timor Independence Day also raises awareness about the country’s history, culture, and economics — and how the people of East Timor have contributed to global cultures. The holiday aims at celebrating the country’s independence after a decades-long struggle.
East Timor Independence Day dates