When we talk about East Timor, you might notice we usually use the term Timor-Leste, or we might interchange the two terms in one article. What do we do this and which is the correct one to use?
To read our Oecusse guide click here.
What is correct East Timor, or Timor-Leste?
The English name of East Timor is the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, so the correct term for the country is Timor-Leste, yet much how North Korea gets called North Korea instead of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK), people say East Timor.
The reason for this somewhat lazy translation is that Timor-Leste quite literally means East Timor in Portuguese and during the many years of struggle for independence the area was referred to as East Timor.
What do Timorese people refer to their country as?
In Tetun one of the official languages of Timor-Leste the country os called Timor Lorosa’e, which quite literally means Timor “where the sun rises”. When speaking English they refer to themselves simply as Timor-Leste, or in short form as TL.
When I have met ambassadors and even the President of Timor-Leste not once have they referred to their country as East Timor and generally speaking you should avoid this term when talking to locals.
You can read my interview with President Horta here.
Why is it the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste?
There are not many Democratic Republic’s left in the world, with the term largely referring to states that either espouse, or espoused socialism. There are of course some current exceptions, but generally speaking not many countries now use this term.
The reason for Timor-Leste going down this route is that FRETELIN a largely communist group were not only the party and army that secured independence, but were also the first party in power.
What differentiated Timor-Leste from other former Portuguese states such as Angola and Mozambique were that said revolutionary party actually gave up power rather than hold onto it.
Currently the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste is genuinely one of the most democratic countries within ASEAN.
And that is why you should say Timor-Leste rather than East Timor. So, why do we say East Timor sometimes? Quite simply for SEO! Sadly while you should say the former, many people still say and indeed type the later. As the years go on though it is more than likely that East Timor will slowly fall out of favour.
Want to see Timor-Leste for yourself? Then why not join YPT on a tour! You can check out our packages here.