The label "Tetum" (Belu, Teto, Tetun) refers to the more than 300,000 speakers of the Tetum language on the island of Timor in Indonesia. The people call themselves "Tetum" or "Tetun," and are referred to as "Belu" by the neighboring Atoni. The traditional Tetum territory is located in south-central Timor. While the Tetum are often described as a single culture, there are numerous subgroups that differ in some ways from each other. One classification scheme differentiated among the Eastern, Southern, and Northern Tetum, with the last two sometimes lumped as the Western Tetum. Tetum is an Austronesian language and either the primary language or the second "official" language in south-central Timor.

The Tetum are swidden fanners; the main crop varies according to location. The people of the hills cultivate rice and breed buffalo, the latter being consumed only during major rituals. The people of the coastal plains cultivate maize and breed pigs that are eaten regularly. Each household maintains its own garden and raises chickens to supplement the diet. There is little hunting and fishing. A weekly market provides a social meeting place and allows the people to trade produce and wares. The Tetum traditionally make iron tools, textiles, rope, baskets, containers, and mats. They express themselves artistically through carving, weaving, engraving, and dyeing cloth.

Groups in the east generally have patrilineal descent, whereas matrilineal descent is the norm among those in the west. Although lineages are localized, the members of a given phratry or clan are dispersed among a number of villages. Tetum have a variety of marital arrangements, including bride-price, bride-service, marriage to form alliances, and concubinage. Traditionally there were four social classes: royalty, aristocrats, commoners, and slaves. Political organization centered on princedoms, which formed kingdoms. Catholicism has become the primary religion, although traditional beliefs and ceremonies survive.

See also Atoni


Hicks, David (1972). "Eastern Tetum." In Ethnic Groups of Insular Southeast Asia, edited by Frank M. LeBar. Vol. 1, Indonesia, Andaman Islands, and Madagascar, 98-103. New Haven: HRAF Press.

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