The culture of East Timor reflects numerous cultural influences, including Portuguese, Roman Catholic and Malay, on the indigenous Austronesian cultures of Timor. Legend tells that a giant crocodile was transformed into the island of Timor, or Crocodile Island, as it is often called. Like Indonesia, the culture of East Timor has been heavily influenced by Austronesian legends, although the Catholic influence is stronger, the population being mainly Roman Catholic.
Illiteracy is still widespread, but there is a strong tradition of poetry. As for architecture, some Portuguese-style buildings can be found, although the traditional totem houses of the eastern region, known as uma lulik also survive. Craftmanship is also widespread, as is the weaving of traditional scarves or tais.
Other important writers of Timor are: Fernando Sylvan, Francisco Borja da Costa, Ruy Cinatti, and Fitun Fuik.
In the modern era, Timorese music has been closely associated with the independence movement; for example, the band Dili All Stars released a song that became an anthem in the build-up to the referendum on independence in 2000, while the United Nations commissioned a song called "Hakotu Ba" (by Lahane) to encourage people to register to vote in the referendum.
East Timorese popular musicians include Teo Batiste Ximenes, who grew up in Australia and uses folk rhythms from his homeland in his music. With many East Timorese people in emigrant communities in Australia, Portugal and elsewhere, East Timorese folk music has been brought to many places around the world. Refugee camps in Portugal mixed together East Timorese music with styles from other Portuguese colonies like Angola and Mozambique.
The guitar has long been an important part of East Timorese musc, though it is an import brought by colonizers; there, however, native kinds of string instruments similar in some ways to the guitar. Foreign influences also include popular styles of music like rock and roll, hip hop and reggae.
The 'Apostolic Administrator' (de facto Bishop) of the Diocese of Dili, Monsignor Martinho da Costa Lopes, began speaking out against human rights abuses by the Indonesian security forces, including rape, torture, murder, and disappearances. Following pressure from Jakarta, he stepped down in 1983 and was replaced by the younger priest, Monsignor Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo, who Indonesia thought would be more loyal. However, he too began speaking out, not only against human rights abuses, but the issue of self-determination, writing an open letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations, calling for a referendum. In 1996 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with exiled leader José Ramos Horta, now the country's Foreign Minister.
In spite of accusations by the Suharto regime that East Timor's independence movement, Fretilin, was communist, many of its leaders had trained to be priests, and their philosophy probably owed more to the Catholic liberation theology of Latin America than to Marxism.
However, in spite of the majority of the country's people now being Catholics, there is freedom of religion in the new republic, and the Prime Minister Marí Alkatiri, is a Muslim of Yemeni descent.