Culturally speaking, the significative fact is the ethno-cultural heterogeneity of the Timorese, evidenced by the various languages and dialects as well as the material productions, expressed in various forms of architectonic constructions that differ according to the regions. Animists by nature, not even the considered Christians can be considered totally converted. Mythology and legends are frequent in the rich oral tradition that tells about the pre-colonial period and the posterior evolution of the kingdoms.
Neither Hinduism nor the Islam had influence in the Timorese beliefs. That achievement was reserved to the Christian missionaries.
When they first disembarked in Timor, inhabitants were found to be animists. Pigafetta, in 1522, referring to them as <<gentiles>>, wrote that <<when they go cut sandalwood, it was told to us that the demon appears in various forms and tells them to ask for something that they need>>.The priest Baltazar Dias states in a letter of 1559 that the Timorese <<are the beastliest people that exist in these parts. Nothing do they adore, neither have [they] idols. Everything what the Portuguese tell them, they do it.>>. It is therefore acceptable that the expansion of Islamism, diffused from Malaysia in the 15th century, hadn't reached Timor although it is said that the sultan of Ternate, Cachil Aeiro, should have subjected the island.
The Muslims, Javanese and Malays frequented these islands before the arrival of the Portuguese, but the islamization didn't constitute their purpose or wasn't permitted by the local chiefs (liurais) who <<had natural aversion for the Muslims>> in the words of the captain of Malacca, in 1518, to king D. Manuel.
The Muslims, as in the beginning the Portuguese, should have inhabited the island for the short period of time sufficient to cut the sandalwood and embark it.
As says Afonso de Castro, <<one cannot find in Timor the fakest vestige of Islamic villages and in the different dialects that are spoken in the island, there isn't a single word of Arabic origin>>.
Not but a minority of Christian natives (serani in Tetum) can be considered to be exempt of animist beliefs, but Christianism is strengthening in East Timor and inhales prestige among the people since the Indonesian occupation, against which the diocese of Dili oftenly manifests in defense of Timorese lives.
As for the non-Christian, they remain in a more or less primitive religion
feeling as moreover the mental culture. Religion consists in superstitions in a
medley of fearness and adoration of the spirits of the dead, materialized
through stones, animals, wells, streams or objects endowed with mysterious
magical power, beneficent or malignant. They call them lulik, which
means sacred and intangible.
(To be continued)