The National Sport of Timor-Leste (East Timor)

August 25, 2023


Timor-Leste, commonly known as East Timor, is a small country located in Southeast Asia. Despite its size and tumultuous history, this nation is deeply passionate about sports. While football (soccer) is very popular, Timor-Leste has a unique national sport that holds great pride and significance for its people. That sport is called "Sasando" - a traditional musical instrument that has been transformed into a captivating game.

The Origins of Sasando

Sasando originated from the island of Rote, which is part of Indonesia and lies west of Timor-Leste. It is a distinctive 25-stringed harp-like musical instrument made from bamboo tubes attached to a central stalk. The name "Sasando" is derived from the phrase "sa sa nando," meaning "look at the light." Traditionally, it was played during ceremonies and cultural events to accompany storytelling and dancing performances.

The Transformation into a Sport

Over time, Sasando evolved from being solely an instrument into a unique sport combining music, agility, and precision. The game is played in a circular field with a central point where the "Sasandores" (players) compete. The objective is to use special sticks to hit the strings of the Sasando and send a small ball, usually made of rattan, towards the opponent's goal. Players must strike the strings with accuracy and speed, while also maintaining a rhythm dictated by traditional Timorese music playing in the background.

Skills and Rules

Playing Sasando requires a unique set of skills. The players must possess exceptional hand-eye coordination, timing, agility, and the ability to listen and adapt to the music. The game has a set of rules that must be adhered to, such as not touching the strings with any part of the body except the sticks and not obstructing the opponent's shooting area. Teams usually consist of four players, and matches last for a predetermined duration.

The Significance of Sasando

Sasando holds great cultural significance for the people of Timor-Leste. It serves as a powerful symbol of unity, tradition, and identity. Through Sasando, the Timorese people celebrate their rich cultural heritage and honor the artistry and craftsmanship of their ancestors. The sport acts as a bridge between generations, preserving ancient traditions in a modern context.

Promoting Sasando Internationally

While Sasando is primarily played and appreciated within Timor-Leste, efforts have been made to promote the sport on an international level. The Timorese government, along with local organizations and enthusiasts, actively participate in cultural exchanges, festivals, and competitions to introduce Sasando to the world. These efforts aim to preserve the sport's legacy and create opportunities for cultural exchange and understanding.


Sasando is more than just a sport in Timor-Leste; it represents the heart and soul of a nation. It combines music, skill, and tradition to create an exhilarating experience for both players and spectators. Through the game of Sasando, the people of Timor-Leste rekindle their past, celebrate their present, and pave the way for a culturally rich future.

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