The inhabitants are predominantly of Malay, Polynesian, and Papuan descent; there is a Chinese minority. The vast majority of the people are Roman Catholic, and there are small numbers of Muslims and Protestants. Portuguese and Tetum, the main local language, are official languages. Although Portuguese is no longer widely spoken, since independence it has been reintroduced into the government, courts, and schools. English and Bahasa Indonesia are "working languages," and there are about 16 indigenous languages.
Although East Timor, whose economy is largely agricultural, was one of the world's poorest nations at independence, it has offshore oil and gas fields in the Timor Gap off East Timor's southern coast that are under development and have begun to produce revenue. Nonetheless, unemployment, estimated at 50%, remains a significant problem. Coffee (the main export), rice, corn, cassava, sweet potatoes, soybeans, cabbage, mangoes, bananas, and vanilla orchids are grown, and stretches of grassland support cattle. Industry is limited to printing, light manufacturing, and the production of handicrafts and woven cloth. Coffee, sandalwood, and marble are among East Timor's exports, and food, gasoline, kerosene, and machinery are imported. Most trade is with Indonesia, although natural gas is piped to Australia.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.