Indonesia's History, Geography, Politics and Economy

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Motto: Bhinneka Tunggal Ika
(Old Javanese/Kawi: Unity in Diversity)
National ideology: Pancasila Indonesia
Anthem: Indonesia Raya

Jump to: History, Politics, Provinces, Geography, Economy, Demographics, Culture, Art, Miscellaneous Topics 



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Indonesian History
Under the influence of Hinduism and Buddhism, several kingdoms formed on the islands of Sumatra and Java from the 7th to 14th century. The arrival of Arab traders from Gujarat, India, later brought Islam, which became the dominant religion in many parts of the archipelago after the collapse of Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms.

When the Europeans came in the early 16th century, they found a multitude of small states. These were vulnerable to the Europeans, who were in pursuit of dominating the spice trade. In the 17th century, the Dutch emerged as the most powerful of the Europeans, ousting the Spanish and Portuguese (except for their colony of Portuguese Timor on the island of Timor). The Dutch influence started with trading by the Dutch East India Company (VOC), a private enterprise, which gradually expanded its region of influence and its grip on political matters. Following the dissolution of the VOC in 1799, as well as the political instability from the Napoleonic Wars, the East Indies were awarded to the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815. From this time onward, the East Indies were officially ruled as colonies of the Dutch crown.

Under the nineteenth-century Cultivation System (Cultuurstelsel), large plantations and forced cultivation were established on Java, finally creating the profit for the Netherlands that the VOC was unable to produce. In a more liberal period of colonial rule after 1870 the Cultivation System was abolished, and after 1901 the Dutch introduced the Ethical Policy, which included limited political reform and increased investment in the colony.

During World War II, with the Netherlands under German occupation, in December 1941 Japan began a five pronged campaign towards Java and the vital fuel supplies of the Dutch East Indies. Though Japan captured Java by March 1942, it was unable to find any national leader willing to cooperate with the Japanese government against the Dutch. Eventually the Japanese commander ordered that Sukarno be released from his prison island and in July 1942 he arrived in Jakarta. Sukarno, with colleagues, cooperated with the Japanese occupiers. In 1945, with the war drawing to a close, Sukarno seized the opportunity to declare independence. Upon lobbying, Japan agreed that Sukarno established a committee to plan for independence. Sukarno, and Mohammad Hatta, declared independence on 17 August.

In an effort to regain control of their previously occupied colonies, the Allies sent in their armies, including the Netherlands' Army. Indonesia's war for independence lasted from 1945 until 27 December 1949, when, under heavy international pressure, the Netherlands acknowledged Indonesia's independence. Sukarno became the country's first president, with Mohammad Hatta as the first vice-president. See Indonesian National Revolution. It was not until 16 August 2005 that the Dutch government finally recognized 1945 as the country's year of independence and expressed its regrets over the Indonesian deaths caused by the Netherlands' Army.

The 1950s and 1960s saw Sukarno's government aligning itself first with the emerging non-aligned movement and later with the socialist bloc. The 1960s saw Indonesia in a military confrontation against neighboring Malaysia, and increasing frustration over domestic economic difficulties.

Army general Suharto became president in 1967 with the excuse of securing the country against an alleged Communist coup attempt against a weakening Sukarno. In the aftermath of Suharto's rise, hundreds of thousands of people were killed or imprisoned in a backlash against alleged Communist supporters. Suharto's administration is commonly called the New Order era. Suharto invited major foreign investment into the country, which produced substantial, if uneven, economic growth. However, Suharto enriched himself and his family through widespread corruption and he was forced to step down amid massive popular demonstrations and a faltering economy by the Indonesian Revolution of 1998.

In the period of 1998 to 2001, the country had three presidents: Bacharuddin Jusuf (BJ) Habibie, Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Sukarnoputri. In 2004 the largest one-day election in the world and Indonesia's first direct Presidential election was held and was won by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Parts of northern Sumatra, particularly Aceh, were devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunami on 26 December 2004. See Impact of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake on Indonesia


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Indonesian Politics

The highest legislative body is the Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat (MPR, head: Hidayat Nur Wahid) or 'People's Consultative Assembly', consisting of the Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR, head: Agung Laksono) or People's Representative Council, elected for a five-year term, and the Dewan Perwakilan Daerah (DPD, head: Ginandjar Kartasasmita) or Regional Representatives Council
Following elections in 2004, the MPR became a bicameral parliament, with the creation of the DPD as its second chamber.


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Provinces

Currently, Indonesia has 33 provinces (of those, 2 are special territories and 1 capital city territory). The provinces are subdivided in districts, which are in turn split up in sub-districts and municipalities. The provinces are:

Bali, Bangka-Belitung, Banten, Bengkulu, Central Java, Central Kalimantan, Central Sulawesi, East Java, East Kalimantan, East Nusa Tenggara, South Sumatra, Gorontalo, Jambi, Lampung, Maluku, North Maluku, North Sulawesi, North Sumatra, Papua (Irian Jaya), Riau, Riau Kepulauan, South East Sulawesi, South Kalimantan, South Sulawesi, West Papua, West Java, West Kalimantan, West Nusa Tenggara, West Sulawesi, West Sumatra

The special territories (daerah istimewa) are Aceh (or Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam) and Yogyakarta. Special territories have more autonomy from the central government than other territories, and as a result they have unique legislative privileges: the Acehnese government has the right to create an independent legal system and instituted a form of sharia (Islamic Law) in 2003; Yogyakarta remains a sultanate whose sultan (currently the popular Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X) is the territory's governor for life.

The capital city territory is DKI Jakarta. Though Jakarta is a single city, it is administered much as any other Indonesian province. For example, Jakarta has a governor (instead of a mayor), and is divided into several sub-regions with their own administrative systems.



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Geography

Indonesia's 18,108 islands, of which about 6,000 are inhabited, are scattered around the equator, giving the country a tropical climate. The largest populated islands are Java, one of the most densely populated regions on Earth, where about half of the population lives, Sumatra, Kalimantan (the Indonesian side of Borneo, shared with Malaysia and Brunei), New Guinea (shared with Papua New Guinea) and Sulawesi. The country borders Malaysia on the island of Borneo (Indonesian: Kalimantan), Papua New Guinea on the island of New Guinea and East Timor on the island of Timor. In addition to the capital city of Jakarta, principal Indonesian cities of high population include Surabaya, Bandung, Medan, Palembang, and Semarang.

Its location on the edges of tectonic plates, specifically the Pacific, Eurasian, and Australian, means Indonesia is frequently hit by earthquakes and sometimes resulting tsunamis. Indonesia is also rich in volcanoes, the most famous being the now vanished Krakatau (Krakatoa), which was located between Sumatra and Java.

Flora and fauna differ markedly between Kalimantan, Bali, and western islands on the one hand and Sulawesi, Lombok, and islands further to the east on the other hand. This ecological boundary has been called the Wallace line after its discoverer. The line is often given as the boundary between Asia and Australasia, as such making Indonesia a bicontinental country.

See also: Map of Asia


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Indonesian Economy

Indonesia's economy suffered greatly in the late 1990s, in part as a result of the financial crisis that struck most of Asia at the time. The economy has stabilized since then and has demonstrated solid growth figures, earning it improving credit ratings.

The country has extensive natural resources outside of Java, including crude oil, natural gas, tin, copper and gold. Indonesia is the world's second largest exporter of natural gas, though it has recently become a net importer of crude oil. Major agricultural products include rice, tea, coffee, spices and rubber.

Indonesia's major trading partners are Japan, the United States and the surrounding nations of Singapore, Malaysia and Australia.

The central bank of Indonesia is Bank Indonesia



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Demographics

Indonesia's population can be roughly divided into two groups. The west of the country is Asian and the people are mostly Malay, while the east is more Pacific and people on New Guinea are Papuan, with roots in the islands of Melanesia. There are, however, many more subdivisions, which is logical given the fact that Indonesia spans an area the size of Europe or the USA and that it consists of many islands that to a large degree had their own separate development. Many Indonesians identify with a more specific ethnic group that is often linked to language and regional origins; examples of these are Javanese, Sundanese, or Batak. But there are also quite different groups within many islands, such as Borneo, with its Dayak and Punan, who have different lifestyles and skintones.

Most Indonesians speak a local language (bahasa daerah) as their first tongue, but the official national language, Indonesian (locally called Bahasa Indonesia or simply Bahasa, meaning language) is universally taught in schools and is spoken by nearly every Indonesian. Originally a lingua franca for most of the region, including present-day Malaysia (and thus closely related to Malay), it was accepted by the Dutch as the de facto language for the colony and declared the official language after independence.

There are also serious ethnic tensions in Indonesia, predominately between Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity and the Pribumi, who are natives of Indonesia. The rioting in Jakarta in 1997 and 1998 highlight this recurring tension. Ethnic relations are strained mostly due to the high level of economic power that the Chinese-Indonesians have relative to the Pribumi, which in turn propels anti-Chinese sentiment. Positions of power and influence in the business sphere are consistently held by ethnic Chinese Indonesians. The Indonesian government is attempting to remedy this problem, but due to widespread corruption and discontent experienced by the poorer citizens of Indonesia ethnic harmony is slow in coming. Corruption, collusion, and nepotism which characterized Suharto's presidency clearly define the origins of Indonesia’s ethnic tensions today.

Islam is Indonesia's main religion, with almost 88% of all Indonesians declared as Muslim according to the 2000 religious census, making Indonesia the most populous Muslim-majority nation in the world. Although Islam was once mainly practiced in Java and parts of Sumatra, the transmigration program has increased the number of Muslims living in Bali, Borneo, the Celebes, the Moluccas, and Papua. The remaining population is 8% Christian (of which roughly three quarters are Protestant, with the remainder mainly Catholic, and a substantial charismatic minority), 3% Hindu and 1% Buddhist with small communities of Jews. Indonesians are required to declare themselves as one of these official religions. As a result, many Indonesian "Muslims" are non-practicing, follow Indonesia's animist traditions (a fact that the government strenuously denies), or are entirely secular.
Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that an increasing number of Indonesians become more religious. Many more Muslims become more devout and the same is applicable for Christians, Hindus and Buddhists.


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Indonesian Cultures

This section contains part of the chapter "Refinement and Related Topics" from our free culture and travel book Enjoying Indonesia

A topic like culture is very wide and diverse and open for many different interpretations and definitions. For most of us, culture is often synonymous with art forms. For anthropologists however, culture is broadly the shared behavior and the worldview of a (large) group of persons.
For a country as large as the Indonesian archipelago it is easy to understand that there must be more than one culture. Indeed, while the exact number of cultures is not known, estimates vary from 300 to 600. 
To give an easy example: even on the island of Java there are at least four different cultures: those of the very traditional Badui in West Java, the 'mainstream' West Javanese, Central Javanese and East Javanese cultures. 
One could easily argue that Jakarta has a distinct popular culture too and that the culture of Yogyakarta is different from the rest of Central Java.

This discussion could continue forever. For the sake of brevity and to serve as a simple introduction to the topic of culture in Indonesia, we'd like to introduce a few recognizable concepts that are shared by most Indonesians, be they from Sumatra, Jakarta or Papua.

There are three major realms in our worldview, each with a number of characteristics. Without any particular order these are:

  1. One’s place in the universe, tied to hierarchy and the invisible world of the ancestors
  1. Religion, which comes with fulfilling one's duty in life and purity
  1. Stability and harmony, essential to maintaining and restoring the power balance
1.      One’s place in the universe

We all have our place in the universe, not just during our lifespan in the here and now, but also in the past and in the future. There is a purpose in living our lives as human beings, subject to ups and downs. Although we are not certain what the purpose is, we know that we must try and achieve a better situation, not primarily in a material sense, but in a spiritual meaning. This sounds like the Buddhist or Hindu philosophy, which is not really surprising, as these were the very first ‘official’ religions that came to Indonesia.

Here on earth the harshest form of human life can be found tilling the soil, fishing in the seas or doing other manual labor. It is not only a harsh life, but also coarse (kasar). We need to aspire a more refined (halus) way of life, as far removed from the dirt as possible. 

It explains why in general, Indonesians have little regard for material possessions and why maintenance is not taken seriously. It also explains why children don’ t mind if their toys (cheap ones or expensive ones) break down soon. The disregard for the material also extends to animals and vegetation. Both are valued only for their contribution to help people sustain themselves, and are rarely enjoyed as pets or as nature. Maybe that is one reason why the environmental movement makes little progress.

 A keen sense of hierarchy is common in all Indonesian cultures. Within families we not only distinguish a hierarchy between grandparents, parents and children, but also among siblings. In the Javanese universe, parents are at the center. They fulfill their roles in life by giving birth, raising children and ensuring that these become parents themselves. That is the essence of life. The older one is always superior to the younger one. Except for one or two cultures, such as in Sumatra we are also convinced that men are higher in the hierarchy than women.

Therefore, patriarchies are the norm and also paternalism and something we call bapakisme, a culture of accepting what adult men say, opine and decide. The word contains the root word bapak, which means father, Mr. and Sir at the same time. A bapak is supposed to be a leader, a good father, the provider, the protector and the one who knows everything and has the correct answer in all occasions. Women, children and subordinates are keen to listen to what bapak says and to follow and to oblige immediately. Boss and bapak are almost synonymous. Questioning bapak is not the norm. A farmer is a bapak for his family. The village head will be the bapak for the entire village, including the farmers. Civil servants will be bapak for the municipality, the district or the province. The culture of bapakisme has gone so far that we are inclined to say only those things that please our bapak, even if it means adjusting the truth. Westerners would say, in their direct way of speech: that is lying. To us, it is simply a matter of highlighting selected aspects of reality. 

The opposite of bapak is ibu, which means Mrs., Madam and mother. A person who is married, or over the age of say, 25 years is traditionally addressed as Ibu or Bapak. What you may guess is that being a father or a mother is an important social position in Indonesia . Which is true. Being a married person and having children is a highly regarded and expected achievement in life. A person who is not married, if asked will respond that he or she is not married yet

Anyone who is too young to be married is addressed as brother (Mas, Bang etc.) uncle ( Om ) or sister (Mbak). Children are usually addressed with adik, which means younger sibling. Everyone, including siblings will address each other similarly and rarely by their name only. Only recently have teenagers begun to address each other by their given names leaving the traditional mbak or mas to those outside their circle of friends. 


With the distinction between the role of bapak and ibu comes a clear distinction between their respective responsibilities. Bapak as the heads of everything are focused most with life outside the family circle, making a living and making decisions for the family, but rarely involving the family members, let alone the children in decision-making. The role and responsibilities of ibu include all that is related to the household and the education of the children. Ibu can be found in the kitchen, a domain that is completely off limits to most bapak


The concept of ‘ladies first’ has its opposite in Indonesia . Here we never say ‘ladies and gentlemen’ but always bapak-bapak dan ibu-ibu. Gentlemen enter the elevator first, the house first, the theatre first, are greeted first and are served first. 

Indonesians constantly look up to a Bapak and are keenly aware of who is ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ to oneself, who is ‘junior’ and who is ‘senior’. 

We are also very conscious that our proper attitude should be one of being humble, modest, polite and pious. Arrogance has no place in our mental framework and we detest it. When we are very young and begin to talk, our parents teach us to use our name if we want to talk about ourselves. It is not modest to say ‘I’ or ‘you’. The only polite way to address someone, while we don’t know the person’s name is to use anda, which is a polite form of ‘you’. In French it would be Vous, in German Sie, in Dutch U, and in Spanish Usted

A different aspect of modesty shows when you ask someone for his or her plans for the future or hopes and dreams. The sentence that will likely pop up is that the person hopes to be or to become useful for the people and the nation. In Indonesian: berguna bagi nusa dan bangsa. Personal ambitions, stepping out of the box, being creative, doing things differently are all concepts that do not fit with the traditional values of modesty, politeness and obedience. And yet, there is this other side of the coin. Observing Bapak in Indonesia, especially those who are well off, have a high position and supervise people you will definitely notice a high degree of arrogance in quite a few of them. Arrogance does not match the ideals of modesty and being humble. It’s probably not the fault of the arrogant bapak, they may not even be aware that they are arrogant. Maybe it is because so many people look up to them that makes that one eventually looses a sense of reality. High positions, being praised all the time, having power and easy access to resources, becoming arrogant, and becoming involved with corruption (in the name of obtaining resources for the members of the bapak’s group in order to redistribute them); it’s a vicious circle that is extremely hard to break. 

A bit more on names; Indonesians generally have more than one name, but all of these are first names. The custom to have a family name has not been introduced to Indonesia . Trying to trace one’s family tree really is a challenge. Even more so because individuals may change their names once or several times in their lives. Sometimes, parents decide to change the name of their child if it continues to be weak and sick. The rationale is that the child’s name is not appropriate, or that a spirit who causes the child to be sick will be fooled if the child suddenly has a different name. Names also may change when one changes his or her social or professional position.

The invisible world of the ancestors is a reality for a vast majority of Indonesians, irrespective of their religious beliefs.

 

2.      Religion and beliefs

Although Indonesia is a secular state, the state philosophy, called Panca Sila (Five Virtues) mentions that all Indonesians need to adhere to one of the four acknowledged religions: Islam, Christianity, Buddhism or Hinduism. It is very difficult to find an Indonesian who will say that he or she is an atheist. That idea is incomprehensible, also because atheism and communism have been synonyms for a long time. Indonesia , which has the world’s largest number of Muslims, goes through a process of deepening religious experience. Not only more and more nominal Muslims become more pious, the same goes for Christians, Buddhists and Hindus. 

In addition to the four acknowledged religions, ancient beliefs, such as mysticism and remnants of animism find fertile ground in the hearts and minds of Indonesians without causing conflicts with the official religion. 

From an anthropological standpoint one could say that religions provide meaning and direction to life and an understanding of one’s duty, as ordained by the Creator.

In day to day interactions with Indonesians, be prepared to be asked a number of questions repeatedly, that is; what is your name, where do you come from and are you married. 
Common law is a concept that does not (officially) exist in Indonesia . It is very little understood or appreciated. Indonesians are supposed to get married and to have children. 


The urge to get married is so strong that traditionally children were married off at a very young age. Girls of 12 years old were considered to be of the correct age to become wives. Boys usually were a bit older, but not by much. Even in today’s Indonesia this practice, early marriage, is the norm in rural communities and even in poor urban neighborhoods. Fortunately more and more children, with access to modern communication media begin to have second thoughts about becoming a mother at age 13 or 14, but it will still take many years before the practice no longer exists. 
Poverty is one of the contributing factors today why parents (and grandparents) may push their children and grandchildren into an early marriage, relieving the economic burden for the family of the child bride. 
The deeply ingrained fear that ‘something unfortunate’ might happen to the adolescent girl if she begins to interact with boys, or attracts the attention of boys is another driving factor to ensure that she finds herself a husband. In many rural communities an unmarried fifteen-year-old girl is considered an old spinster and every attempt will be made to marry her off. 
Even if the marriage would break down after a few weeks or months, having already fulfilled one’s duty in life (especially if a child has been born during the brief marriage), it is far better to be a ‘widow’ (janda) than a spinster. 

But despite many traditions that have survived many centuries, times are changing and with them have come new demands to survive. Old distinctions like the Javanese social class of priyayi (the scholars and administrators) and the low class of abangan no longer exist in modern Indonesia . What remains, at best, are traces of their values and corresponding behavior, such as being indirect. 

Especially from a Javanese perspective the higher one’s social status the more refined one is, the more removed from the coarse and the closer to the ethereal. Observing one’s religious duties fits perfectly in this pattern and in order to do so, one needs to be pure, inside and out. Purity is achieved by ritual cleansing as prescribed in one’s religion and through reading, discussing, understanding and interpreting the Holy Scriptures of the religion.

 

3.      Stability and harmony

The problem with human life is that nothing is constant and that everything flows in directions that are not always favorable to the individual. Power too has a tendency to shift. 
Balance in life and balance of power is often as elusive as it is desired. In Indonesia the situation is not any different. 


We might say that history shows that the overwhelming majority of the people who lived in Indonesia many centuries ago and who live in Indonesia today have very little power. They are taught to accept their fate, to be patient and to work hard to improve live and to strive for harmony. Apparently that message comes across, and several foreigners who have lived in Indonesia for many years are amazed at the seeming ease with which Indonesians are capable to accept. 


Maintaining harmony in all aspects of life is an important objective, and to achieve it many Indonesians have developed a set of behaviors such as deference, modesty and forgiveness. 

Accepting one’s fate and trying to maintain harmony is one thing, trying to acquire a little more power is what many people do in reality. Although lotteries and gambling are illegal practices, they still occur and can be seen as attempts to acquire additional financial means to make life a little more pleasant. 
And obviously, the larger the sum the more power one will create. 

There are other ways to increase one’s power. To practice mysticism or martial arts to develop the inner strength that lies dormant in each individual is increasingly popular. Walking through markets you will undoubtedly come across vendors selling stones, including gemstones. Their clientele are men who carefully select a stone set in a silver or gold ring. Each stone has particular characteristics and the art is to find one that matches one's personality. Almost all adult men in Indonesia can be seen wearing one or more rings, sometimes with small stones, but more commonly rather large stones. 

While we struggle to maintain balance and harmony, we need markers at important milestones. These markers are the many ceremonies you may see, either a genuine ceremony or one transformed into a performance for tourists, such as traditional dances. All those ceremonies mark the passing from one stage in life to the next. In fact the stages of life begin even before birth, when the pregnant woman and her family (including the neighborhood) celebrate different stages of the pregnancy as they signify the development of the fetus. The ceremonies continue after the death of a person. 
All these ceremonies, in any of the cultures in Indonesia emphasize that we are part of the cosmic cycle and that we need to take all precautions to maintain the cosmic balance. 

Being modest or humble has its expression in that we don’t want to create problems. The other one is that we forgive easily. 

Not wanting to create problems we (especially the Javanese) may say things that are not always truthful from a foreigners’ perspective. We have been said to be deferential: avoiding conflict and confrontation. From our side of the story, there is no harm at all to say that we agree, while in fact we don’t. We behave like this especially towards seniors. After all, it is ‘not done’ to challenge their opinion. 
So, it is far better to pretend than to create an unpleasant atmosphere in the house or at work –and thus disrupt harmony. The unpleasant atmosphere will linger for weeks or years, but the pretense will be forgiven soon. 

A long time ago, in the colonial days, the Dutch were puzzled about the Javanese rulers, so aloof that they almost completely seemed to ignore the colonizers and continued to live as usual. The Dutch also complained that those ‘natives’ couldn’t be trusted. When they said ‘yes’ they would do ‘no’. When they smiled in front of you, the next moment they would stab a dagger in your back. 
From an Indonesian, or Javanese standpoint many westerners and, for that matter, also countrymen from Sumatra, Kalimantan, Madura and East Java are rude and inconsiderate. They express themselves in a direct way, hurting people while doing so and causing loss of face. Westerners we identify with shouting in public and rude behavior. 
Some of us wonder why foreigners can’t behave like we do. How nice it would be if foreigners took time to sit down and talk about things or talk about nothing. Even if the topic would be a difficult one, involving a refusal, it would be best to wrap the message into nice words and phrases, allowing the other person to catch the message indirectly, without being hurt or embarrassed in the presence of others. 

Changing perspectives again, even today some foreigners are inclined to see Indonesians as dishonest and impossible to work with. Of course, among us there are dishonest people. However, what you might call dishonest can be classified in many instances as indirect behavior, aimed to avoid disappointing you and disturbing harmony. Let’s take an example. Suppose you would ask the receptionist of the hotel or an Indonesian colleague, neighbor or friend for a favor, to join you to go somewhere or something similar. The response usually is affirmative. It may happen that long after the confirmation nothing has happened. At some point you would certainly remind the person, only to hear that he is still working on it, or still trying to comply. Finally, after hours or days you may conclude that this is not going to work. In case you would reprimand or complain about the situation, your friend, neighbor or colleague would certainly be surprised. After all, the initial confirmation was meant to sound as a ‘maybe’. For Javanese at least, it is impossible to say ‘no’ or ‘can I get a rain check.’ That would be extremely rude and would, we know, hurt you. 

The point is that we have a whole range of ‘yes’ answers. Only the intonation of the ‘yes’ and the corresponding body language or ‘eye language’ will reveal to the experienced observer if it is a real ‘yes’, a ‘maybe’ or a ‘forget it’. 

Obviously, to the outsider, that must seem like a very confusing, inefficient and ineffective way of communicating. The simple solution if you indeed need to have a firm yes or no is to ask a little further. Give details of what you need, how you need it and when. Ask questions about how the person would go about and do it or get it and where. All of your asking will emphasize that you are serious about the request. Gradually, applying these filters the true answer will emerge, with a smile and nobody will feel offended or embarrassed. 

Having said that, things are changing in Indonesia . Modern business requirements leave little time for elaborate questions and answers that can be interpreted either way. A deal is a deal and time is money. You will find that well educated people who are used to interact with foreigners or who are professionals will tell you straightforwardly that something can or cannot be done. Another sector of society that will give you a firm ‘no’ are shop attendants and customer service staff. Having a discussion with them, trying to convince them is a waste of time. It is difficult to blame these individuals as they only follow the rules that have been laid out to them. If the peraturan (rule), handed down hierarchically says that it must be done this way then automatically it cannot be done in any other way. 

Some former Dutch soldiers, who fought in Indonesia during our struggle for freedom from 1945 to 1949 (through President Soekarno and vice-president Mohammad Hatta we claimed Independence in the morning hours of August 17, 1945), still feel bad about all the fighting in their beautiful former colony. Troubled by homesickness and feelings of guilt, after all those years they would love to come back to Indonesia , but still feared that their former enemies harbor hard feelings. Those who eventually ventured to Indonesia and met Indonesian veterans were often moved to tears when they received the warm welcomes and friendship they had never expected. Let bygones be bygones and let’s be friends, is our message. We don’t have to forget, but we already forgave any wrongdoings and hostilities as soon as the weapons went silent and expect that we are forgiven likewise. 

While being direct or indirect depends on where you are in Indonesia , there is one characteristic that applies to members of all our cultures. It is known as basa basi or small talk. 
There is a tremendous amount of small talk going on, both within the family, among business partners and especially in casual contacts. Indonesians love to talk and they can talk for hours raising lots of topics, without actually touching on the core and always taking care not to offend the other. 
Small talk is related to being evasive while still maintaining a positive appearance and a pleasant atmosphere. Basa basi, if not well understood, may cause embarrassment and oftentimes foreigners fall into the trap of misunderstanding basa basi. If for example you will be casually invited to come over and visit, it is best to assume that the invitation is basa basi only. 


With this observation the cycle is almost complete. We have seen that a sharp sense of hierarchy and seniority, being indirect (or direct), being evasive (such as comes with basa-basi), modest, and being careful to maintain the cosmic balance as well as harmonious relations between people are the most common and most recognizable character traits of Indonesians.

Forgiving is especially obvious in the annual Muslim celebration of Idulfitri or Lebaran at the conclusion of the fast during the month of Ramadan. On the occasion we visit our senior relatives to ask for forgiveness for all the mistakes and wrongdoings we committed, either on purpose or involuntary during the previous year. In fact we ask forgiveness to all our friends, colleagues and neighbors. After that, reinvigorated, we begin with a clean slate, trying to be better persons in the year ahead, knowing that we have purified ourselves and restored harmony.



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Indonesian Art

Art forms in Indonesia have been influenced by many different cultures during many hundreds of years. 
The famous Javanese and Balinese dances, for example, are based on Hindu culture and mythology. It is not difficult to see a continuum in the traditional dances depicting episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata from India, through Thailand all the way to Bali.
There is a marked difference, though between the highly stylized dances and (gamelan) music of the courts of Jogjakarta and Surakarta (Solo) and their popular variations. 
While the court dances are promoted and even performed internationally, the popular forms of dance art and drama must largely be discovered locally.

Among the popular art forms of Java are: Reog from Ponorogo, Kethoprak in Central and East Java, Angguk and Jathilan from around Purwokerto.

Another major difference is in the styles of dance and music in Java and Bali. While the movements and the music in Java are introvert and slow, Bali's dance and music are much more extrovert and exuberant. 

Also well-known is the Javanese and Balinese wayang kulit shadow theater, depicting acts from the Ramayana stories, often interlaced with contemporary events or issues -and humor
Wayang kulit
uses two dimensional leather puppets, while wayang golek is performed using three dimensional wooden puppets and is shown most often in West Java. 
Wayang wong
is performed by male and female dancers.

View and hear an example of traditional Central Javanese gamelan music (accompaniment of Gambyong, a dance often performed during weddings).

Other islands have their specific dances and music too. Even among Indonesians these are not very familiar, although during the last few years Saman from Aceh in North Sumatra has become rather popular and is often performed on TV.

Keroncong is said to have its roots in Portugal, brought to Indonesia by Portuguese traders in the 15th century. 
Most popular in the 20th century, keroncong is now often considered "old people's" music. But make your own judgement: watch a practice session of a keroncong ensemble (Yogyakarta, Mangkuyudan, 2005).
The most revered keroncong composer is Gesang. A more modern form of keroncong is called Pop Keroncong with Hetty Koes Endang as one of the most versatile singers.
In addition, there are regional variations such as Langgam Jawa.

Dangdut is a modern musical genre which first surfaced during the 1970s. It is now extremely popular throughout the archipelago among both young and old. On first impression dangdut has a distinct Indian sound.

Indonesia is not generally known as a treasure trove for paintings, but the fact is that the connoisseur will be able to find unique works of art. 
Primarily there are the often intricate and expressive traditional and modern Balinese paintings. They often express natural scenes and themes from the traditional dances.
Furthermore there are several internationally known painters either Indonesians or Europeans who settled in Indonesia whose works now fetch very high prices.
Modern Indonesian painters use a wide variety of styles and themes.
Calligraphy, mostly based on the Qur'An is decorative in its special way.

Indonesia is the birth place of batik and ikat cloth. Once on the brink of disappearing batik and later ikat found a new lease of life when former President Soeharto promoted wearing batik shirts on official occasions. In addition to the traditional patterns with their special meanings, used for particular occasions, batik designs have become creative and diverse over the last few years.

At a crossroads between art and sports is Silat, one of the unique martial arts originating from the archipelago.



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