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Administrative divisions of East Timor

Last modified: 2017-05-19 by ian macdonald
Keywords: colonial flag | weaving |
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Districts / municipalities

In 1908, Portugal divided the Timorese territory into 15 military commands, responsible for the decentralization of the civil administration. One decade later, the Portuguese metropolis created the first circunscrições civis (English: civil circumscriptions, a generic term for association of civilians) which divided military power, since it had become superfluous after the signing of the Arbitral Sentence (by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 1914 with the Netherlands. The first concelho (English: council, as in (municipal) council) - Dili - was only created in 1940. After that, many other concelhos (municipalities) and circunscrições (circumscriptions) coexisted, until the last circumscription (Oecussi-Ambeno) was given the status of concelho (municipality) in August 1973.

By the mid-1960s, the Portuguese administration was organized into 11 municipalities:

The borders of these divisions were similar to those of present-day distritos (English: districts); however, there are three differences: the Municipality of Aileu was separated from Dili during the last years of the Portuguese administration; and, under the Indonesian administration, the subdistrict of Turiscai (located in Manufahi, formerly a part of the Ainaro district, was transferred to Manufahi. As a result, Hato Udo (located in Ainaro was taken from Manufahi and given to Ainaro. Among all of the districts in Timor-Leste, Viqueque is the largest, with an area of 884 km², and Dili the smallest (364 km²).
Source: http://timor-leste.gov.tl/?p=91&lang=en
Esteban Rivera, 25 April 2017

In 2015 Timor-Leste changed its districts into municipalities. Since then there were some symbols adopted. I could detect logos of the municipalities of Aileu and Cova Lima (Tetum and Portuguese versions), a flag of Manufahi and logos and flags of the Autoridade da Região Administrativa Especial de Oecusse (ARAEO) and the Zona Espesial Ekonomiko Sosial no Merkadu (ZEESM), which includes Oecusse(-Ambeno).
Flags of Oecusse can be seen in a photo at the office of the president of ARAEO, Mr. Alkatiri: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10207745954828967&set=g.213490025459127&type=1&theater
The full logos and the other images are collected at German Wikipedia: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flagge_Osttimors#Flaggen_und_Symbole_der_Gemeinden_Osttimors
J. Patrick Fischer, 25 April 2017

Traditional weavings on the parliament wall

On the right and the left wall of the East Timor national parliament are hanging traditional weavings, each with the name of one of the districts. Each district has such a weaving on the left and the right, but there are not exactly the same, just similar. So, not regional flags, but examples of traditional designs of each district?…
J. Patrick Fischer, 08 August 2002

A set of flag images purporting to represent the "Districts of East Timor" is posted on Wikimedia commons at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Flags_of_districts_of_East_Timor. These images were drawn by J. Patrick Fisher for internal use in FOTW and (although they were forwarded to the government in East Timor) have not been adopted to our knowledge by any of the districts.

I never saw my images in official use in TL and the districts are still not changed into municipalities with their own elected administrations. The administrators are still nominated by the central government, so I can not see any local authority which could use "my" flags.
J. Patrick Fisher, 10 January 2012


Planned administrative divisions

I just heard it in the radio: the CNRT, meeting in Darwin, Australia, issued a first draft of the future administrative division of the future independent republic of Timor Lorosae. The 13 municipalities [districts] are maintained in principle, but the territory will be divided into 3 provinces (handled by the CNRT as economical planning regions), a northern province including Díli but excluding Atauro and Ocussi Ambeno, a Eastern province including Baucau and the eastern half of the territory and a southern province including the southern coast. The provinces would include:

Atauro and Ocussi Ambeno will be, according to this plan, autonomous regions.

So, in the future Republic of East Timor, if this plan is implemented, the following flags are to be expected:

  • a national flag, naturally
  • 13 municipal flags, perhaps 12 if the municipality of Ocussi disappears (the territory coincides with that of the planned autonomous region)
  • 2 flags of autonomous regions (finally we’ll probably have a real flag for Ocussi Ambeno ;-)
  • possibly 3 provincial flags.
Díli would remain as a provincial capital only, being the national capital city placed in a town on the hills, in a location more central, geographically. This would probably mean a reorganization to some extent, if not immediately, then soon enough (capitals tend to grow quickly and require smaller administrative divisions for the administration to be effective).
Jorge Candeias, 22 Oct 1999 and 27 Oct 1999

I’ll not be surprised if both municipalities and communes are to be changed in near future. I guess the flags from the Portuguese era (unused in the last 25 years) will not be revived.
António Martins, 23 October 1999

Well, they might. The majority of the Timorese are in a state of nostalgia for everything Portuguese so they just might dig up the old municipal flags, at least to serve as basis for new ones. Anyway, the CNRT proposed to the UN the organization of local elections within one year, so these flags would possibly be used only after that. But everything is highly speculative here.
Jorge Candeias, 27 October 1999


The “four parts” of the territory

The four parts [symbolized on the U.D.T. flag] of the territory are:

  1. The NE "half" of the Timor Island,
  2. the enclave of Oekusi in the N coast of the W "half",
  3. the island of Ataúro (or Kambing), 30 km N off Dili, and
  4. the islet of Jako, 1 km off the easternmost tip of Timor.
These four parts are noted not for its cultural importance of course (being the last two really small and unimportant, especially Jako, which I believe to be uninhabited), but as an assertion of the Timor territorial integrity, as settled between Portugal and the Netherlands in 1 October 1904 and 25 June 1914.
António Martins, 16 September 1997

As far as I know, the Indonesian occupation didn’t change the limits of the territory (one might ask why…), all those three territories [Jaco, Ocussi-Ambeno and Ataúro] being considered by the Indonesian government as parts of “their” 27th province Timor Timur. This border line, by the way, was settled between Portugal and the Netherlands very early in the 20th cent., if I recall correctly by swapping the vassal-dom of several native kingdoms along the border area, previously the territorial claims were a mess of enclaves and exclaves.

It might be of interest to say that Oecussi-Ambeno (a coastal enclave to the SW) is one of the 13 districts, Ataúro/Kambing (an island some 20 km north of Dili) is/was one of the communes of the Dili district, and Jaco (a very small islet, probably uninhabited) is/was a part of the Lautém district, Tutuala commune.
António Martins
, 22 August 1999


Reputed district flags

Flag of East Timorimage by J. Patrick Fischer, 10 January 2012

The image above represents a compendium of flag proposals for the districts of Timor Leste, drawn by J. Patrick Fischer and submitted to the Timor Leste government, although with no response. They were subsequently posted on the internet by Mr. Guterres, who provided them for Wikipedia, where they are now posted as flags of the districts (linked from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Districts_of_East_Timor).

I never saw "my" images in official use in TL and the districts are still not changed into municipalities with their own elected administrations. The administrators are still nominated by the central government, so I can not see any local authority which could use "my" flags.
J. Patrick Fischer, 10 January 2012