Topics on this page include:
Culture, Smile, Your Right Hand, Bare
Bathrooms, Refinement, "Hello
Mister", religion, Basa-basi
Indonesian Culture Links
(art gallery with modern Indonesian paintings, Jakarta)
(A Belgium based site with, on this page, information about contemporary
from Balinese children and female painters)
(art books on Indonesia)
Bali Arts Festival (annual
event featuring drama, dance from Bali, Indonesia and other countries)
(information on Borobudur and Prambanan temple complexes, Central Java)
(a bit of culture, a bit of entertainment in Jogjakarta)
(an insider's look into the court culture of Yogyakarta, Semarang, Solo in Java)
kampungdaun (cultural gallery
and cafe, Bandung: site is in Indonesian and English)
Ki-demang (Site in Javanese and
Indonesian: find your birthday and character according to the Javanese calendar.
Site also has recipes, information about gamelan and much more)
Have a look at our Indonesian History page.
MyJakarta (life as seen
through they eyes of ordinary Jakartans -by The Jakarta Globe)
(traditional art form from Ponorogo, East Java)
jiffest (Jakarta International Film
Enjoying Indonesia is our eBook that tell you
all about where to go, what to do and how to understand the people.
gramedia (one Indonesia's major
publishing houses -site is in Indonesian only)
(another major publishing house in Indonesia -site is in Indonesian only)
lontar (Indonesian literature)
stories in Indonesian: Kumpulan Intisari Cerita Indonesia Terbesar. Terdiri dari Dongeng, Kata Mutiara, Hikayat, Renungan, Humor,
Puisi, Renungan, Sastra, dll.)
(Annual Writers and Readers festival in Ubud, Bali)
Ganeshabookshop (major new and used bookshop,
all about Bali and Indonesia, Ubud, Bali)
Free laughs (Pak Edy's humor site
in Indonesian and Javanese)
ketawa (well, culture...see what we
find humorous -in Indonesian only)
armamuseum (Agung Rai Museum of Arts, Bali)
museumnasional (the National
Museum in Jakarta)
The topic of 'culture' is inexhaustible. Especially in a country like Indonesia,
with some 300 different cultures, as diverse as the number of ethnic groups or the number of local languages spoken.
Numerous publications are available specializing in one or more aspects of one culture (especially Balinese and Javanese
For a travel and culture guide with a different approach we recommend "Enjoying
Indonesia" which you will
find on our Books page.
Suffice to say that Indonesia is a modernizing society where we find hard rock,
sexy dangdut and
rap alongside slow traditional music and highly stylized, refined court dances depicting episodes from the ancient Ramayana or Mahabharata
epics and shadow
puppet performances on auspicious occasions, especially in the central parts of
Java and Bali.
West Javanese Angklung music
Shadow puppet performance
Do Indonesians feel Indonesian? It's hard to say. From everyday conversations
one would say "yes".
However, sociologists and anthropologists will probably argue that Indonesians
identify first and foremost with their ethnicity (being Javanese, Madurese,
Balinese, Batak and so on).
Given the vastness of the country, maybe that is hard to avoid, even after a
process of nation building that began with independence in 1945.
to our national anthem.
Have a look at our Indonesian History page.
Indonesians are a friendly people, most travel guides tell you. It is true. Despite their severe economic and political problems, Indonesians have remained open and friendly. They laugh a lot and they smile a lot.
Also to apologize or when they feel embarrassed.
There may be times when you feel tempted to loose your temper, such as in
traffic situations. Remember, no matter what
happens, remain calm and friendly.
And smile to get things done or to apologize.
Your right Hand
Maybe the next most important cultural aspect to be aware of throughout Indonesia is the use of your right hand. Whatever you do in public, never use your left hand to accept or to give something.
The left hand is considered 'dirty' or 'inappropriate'. It is used to clean
Maybe that is one reason why children who are left handed are conditioned to use their right
Bare Feet and Cool Floors
Most Indonesians take their shoes or sandals off before entering a house. That makes perfect sense, because going barefoot on the cool floor tiles is far more comfortable in a tropical climate than harassing your feet with shoes and socks.
At home families prefer to sit on mats on the floor. That's how they
relax, watch TV, chat with friends, eat and drink and sometimes even sleep.
However, when you are invited to someone's house, you will likely be received in the guest room
where you formally sit on chairs (but with bare feet).
If you're invited to the family room then you are really considered as a family
member or a close friend. Here too you will find chairs and sofas but the family is
comfortably crouching on the floor.
Bathroom cultures in foreign countries can be unsettling.
In Indonesia a clean bathroom is a wet bathroom. While in some locations you may encounter traditional toilets where you need to
squat, western closets are a normal sight these days, especially in hotels.
Toilet tissue is not always part of the inventory.
Traditionally there is a scoop and a bucket of water or a tap to fill the scoop. The
water replaces the toilet tissue.
Taking a bath the traditional Indonesian way is rather refreshing. A traditional bathroom contains a small ceramic or cement tub with water.
If you wonder how to get inside the tub, don't. You're not supposed to get into the tub at all but to scoop water from it and splash it over your head and body. Very refreshing indeed, especially on cold mornings in cool mountain locations like
Bogor, Bandung, Dieng or Malang when there is no hot water to ease the waking up
Halus means refined. Being refined, not being outspoken but soft voiced, avoiding confrontation and conflict, not being direct and
avoiding to loose face are all part of the ideals of the upper social classes in the central provinces of Java.
In some respects
halus has penetrated to lower social ranks and some of its aspects have become part and parcel of at least Javanese and Balinese culture.
halus is not always practiced. In traffic, for example most drivers are not halus or considerate at all.
Standing in line, patiently awaiting one's turn is often an alien concept
and people's behavior is not refined in such occasions.
Interacting with Indonesians is very easy. You will soon discover that most Indonesians, irrespective of age, class or education are interested in getting to know foreign visitors.
They are talkative and friendly, and yet to some extent there is also an ingrained fear of anything 'foreign'.
No wonder for a country that still bears a collective trauma of 300 years of colonization.
Indonesians like to ask many questions. Some of those may sound intrusive, but then again, to Indonesians those are only the regular ones.
Examples of such questions are where you come from, if you are married (and if not, why not), how many children you have and what your religion is.
Others may ask your opinion on the economic or political
situation, in Indonesia, your country or the world.
The first call for your attention is "Hello Mister." Although 'mister' sounds rude, it's most of the English many Indonesians have mastered. It's not meant to be rude at all.
By the way, "Hello Mister" is also used to address women. If you respond a bright smile will be
Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population in the world. Approximately 80 percent of all Indonesians are devout Muslims.
In general, Indonesia is a deeply religious nation and that also applies to the minorities of Christians, Hindus and Buddhists.
Pancasila, the State philosophy, says that having a monotheistic religion is mandatory.
That explains why Indonesians don't understand and can't very well accept that people (foreigners) may admit that they don't have a religion.
Contrary to what may appear from international news coverage the different faiths in Indonesia
largely co-exist side by side.
Yet, discussions about different religions are never held in public. There is an unwritten convention in Indonesia that one accepts the religion of others.
Together with the Muslim holidays, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu holidays are recognized and celebrated.
For a list of national holidays go to the Home
It won't be long before someone invites you to come over. Addresses and telephone numbers are exchanged. Then, when you show up, you may be embarrassed to experience that the hosts apparently had forgotten about the appointment.
In Indonesia the ritual of inviting is known as
basa-basi. It translates best with small talk and nobody expects that you really come.
It takes some experience to understand when an invitation is
basa-basi and when it is real. Likewise, if you invite people, make sure that the intended guests understand that you are serious about
The best way to avoid confusing situations is to call the help of a
co-worker or a mutual friend or acquaintance. If you have mastered some Indonesian, you may do so yourself by emphasizing:
bukan basa-basi ("no small talk", which also happens to be the slogan of a
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