Peoples of Oé-Cusse

Peoples of Oé-Cusse

“Oé-Cusse does… show high levels of trust and social cohesion which could serve as a basis for addressing other problems.”

The peoples of Oé-Cusse have been internationally oriented from the earliest recorded times in Timorese history. Believed to be visited by Chinese traders from as early as the 13th century, it was the location of the first Portuguese capital on the island from 1515 to 1775. After 1775 it continued to be an important independent port, working with Dutch, English, Indian, Portuguese, Indonesian and Chinese traders to export sandalwood and coffee. Today our ferry, expanding roads and airport continue that tradition.


Several languages are spoken in Oé-Cusse depending on location and domain. Most people speak the local language, Lais Meto (Baiqueno). Tetum is spoken fluently by most but is only switched to when others, who do not speak Lais Meto (Baiqueno), are in the conversation. On top of this the international languages of Portuguese and Bahasa are spoken in some capacity by the majority, while English is an active new comer. Sometimes business meetings can be conducted in English to accommodate foreigners, but few people speak it outside of Pante Macassar.

Sacred Areas

The Oé-Cusse people are deeply spiritual, honoring their ancestors and the land as constant, vital members of their communities. The idea of an area or cultural ritual being sacred is a very common one in Oé-Cusse. There are many lulik’s, or scared areas, which can be cemeteries, areas preserved from farming, waterfalls or areas reserved for spiritual activities. Similar to churches or temples, their significance and the way to offer respect is individual to each type. This can be obvious to locals and unknown to outsiders. Environmentalists have noted that in many cases these sacred areas and taboos work to preserve vital natural resources such as water and regenerative forest. Our forest reserve is one such area.

Demographics and Differences

There are over 70,000 Timorese living in Oé-Cusse, the majority, 12,000 live in Pante Macassar. There is a vibrant expatriate society, with over 2,000 foreigners living in the area, including Portuguese, Indonesian, Chinese and Irish. There are different traditions to explore in different parts of Oé-Cusse, tais, food taboos and the shapes of sacred houses differ between mountainous areas and the coast.


As anyone who has visited has immediately noticed Oé-Cusse feels safe and the statistics back this up noting that it has an extremely low crime rate. Social trust is built on deep family foundations and this protection is routinely extended to visitors. In a recent report 96% of Oé-Cusse people were willing to trust a neighbor to carry money to a relative in Dili in case of an emergency. Communal events such as festivals, religious services, both Catholic and traditional, are well attended.  International partners have noted that when requested communal efforts in construction projects are equally well supported by communities, with passages of rough road repaired in advance when needed.

We are not the only ones to appreciate the culture and achievements of the Oé-Cusse people. In 2016 the Oé-Cusse music and tai team’s firsts and second place respectively in a national Timor-Leste cultural festival.