Indonesia's History, Geography, Politics and Economy
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Under the influence of Hinduism
several kingdoms formed on the islands of Sumatra
from the 7th
century. The arrival of Arab
traders from Gujarat,
which became the dominant religion in many parts of the archipelago
collapse of Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms.
When the Europeans
came in the early 16th
century, they found a multitude of small states. These were
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
(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
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
Under the nineteenth-century Cultivation
large plantations and forced cultivation were established on Java,
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
and increased investment in the colony.
War II, with the Netherlands under German
in December 1941 Japan
began a five pronged campaign towards Java and the vital fuel supplies
Dutch East Indies. Though Japan captured Java by March 1942, it was
find any national leader willing to cooperate with the Japanese
against the Dutch. Eventually the Japanese commander ordered that
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
declared independence on 17
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
when, under heavy international pressure, the Netherlands acknowledged
Indonesia's independence. Sukarno became the country's first president,
Mohammad Hatta as the first vice-president. See Indonesian
National Revolution. It was not until 16
that the Dutch
finally recognized 1945 as the country's year of independence and
expressed its regrets
over the Indonesian deaths caused by the Netherlands'
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.
administration is commonly called the New
Order era. Suharto invited major foreign investment
into the country, which produced substantial, if uneven, economic
However, Suharto enriched himself and his family through widespread corruption
and he was forced to step down amid massive popular demonstrations and
faltering economy by the Indonesian
Revolution of 1998.
In the period of 1998
to 2001, the
country had three presidents:
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
Parts of northern Sumatra,
were devastated by a massive earthquake
and tsunami on 26
December 2004. See
of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake on Indonesia
The highest legislative body is the Majelis
Permusyawaratan Rakyat (MPR,
Nur Wahid) or 'People's Consultative Assembly', consisting of
Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR, head: Agung
Laksono) or People's
Representative Council, elected for a five-year term, and the
Perwakilan Daerah (DPD, head: Ginandjar
Kartasasmita) or Regional
Following elections in 2004,
the MPR became a bicameral
with the creation of the DPD as its second chamber.
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
The provinces are:
Nusa Tenggara, South
(Irian Jaya), Riau,
East Sulawesi, South
Sulawesi, West Papua, West
Nusa Tenggara, West
The special territories (daerah
istimewa) are Aceh
(or Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam) and Yogyakarta.
Special territories have more autonomy from the central government than
territories, and as a result they have unique legislative privileges:
Acehnese government has the right to create an independent legal system
instituted a form of sharia (Islamic Law) in 2003;
Yogyakarta remains a
sultanate whose sultan (currently the popular Sri Sultan
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
province. For example, Jakarta has a governor (instead of a mayor), and
divided into several sub-regions with their own administrative systems.
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
populated regions on Earth, where about half of the population lives,
Sumatra, Kalimantan (the Indonesian side of Borneo, shared with Malaysia
Guinea (shared with Papua
New Guinea) and Sulawesi.
The country borders Malaysia
on the island of Borneo
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
population include Surabaya,
Its location on the edges of tectonic
plates, specifically the Pacific, Eurasian, and Australian,
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
Flora and fauna differ markedly between
Kalimantan, Bali, and western islands
on the one hand and Sulawesi, Lombok, and islands further to the east
other hand. This ecological boundary has been called the Wallace
line after its discoverer. The line is often given as the
Asia and Australasia, as such making Indonesia a bicontinental
See also: Map
Indonesia's economy suffered greatly in the
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
gas, tin, copper
and gold. Indonesia
is the world's second largest exporter of natural gas, though it has
become a net importer of crude oil. Major agricultural products include
Indonesia's major trading partners are Japan,
States and the surrounding nations of Singapore,
bank of Indonesia is Bank Indonesia
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,
in the islands of Melanesia.
There are, however, many more subdivisions, which is logical given the
Indonesia spans an area the size of Europe or the USA and that it
many islands that to a large degree had their own separate development.
Indonesians identify with a more specific ethnic group that is often
language and regional origins; examples of these are Javanese,
But there are also quite different groups within many islands, such as Borneo,
with its Dayak
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,
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
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
tension. Ethnic relations are strained mostly due to the high level of
power that the Chinese-Indonesians have relative to the
in turn propels anti-Chinese sentiment. Positions of power and
influence in the
business sphere are consistently held by ethnic Chinese Indonesians.
Indonesian government is attempting to remedy this problem, but due to
widespread corruption and discontent experienced by the poorer citizens
Indonesia ethnic harmony is slow in coming. Corruption, collusion, and
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
according to the 2000 religious census, making Indonesia the most
Muslim-majority nation in the world. Although Islam was once mainly
Java and parts of Sumatra, the transmigration
program has increased the number of Muslims living in Bali,
Celebes, the Moluccas, and Papua. The remaining population is 8% Christian
(of which roughly three quarters are Protestant, with the remainder
Catholic, and a substantial charismatic minority), 3% Hindu
and 1% Buddhist
with small communities of Jews. Indonesians are required to declare
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
become more religious. Many more Muslims become more devout and the
applicable for Christians, Hindus and Buddhists.
This section contains part of the chapter
"Refinement and Related
Topics" from our free culture and travel book Enjoying
A topic like culture is very wide and diverse and open for many
interpretations and definitions. For most of us, culture is often
with art forms. For anthropologists however, culture is broadly the
behavior and the worldview of a (large) group of persons.
For a country as large as the Indonesian archipelago it is easy to
that there must be more than one culture. Indeed, while the exact
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
different cultures: those of the very traditional Badui in West Java,
'mainstream' West Javanese, Central Javanese and East Javanese
One could easily argue that Jakarta has a distinct popular culture too
the culture of Yogyakarta is different from the rest of Central Java.
This discussion could continue forever. For the sake of brevity and to
a simple introduction to the topic of culture in Indonesia, we'd like
introduce a few recognizable concepts that are shared by most
they from Sumatra, Jakarta or Papua.
are three major realms in our worldview, each
with a number of characteristics. Without any particular order these
- One’s place in the universe, tied to hierarchy and
the invisible world of the ancestors
- Religion, which comes with fulfilling one's duty in
life and purity
- Stability and harmony, essential to maintaining and
restoring the power balance
One’s place in the universe
all have our place in the universe, not just during our lifespan in the
now, but also in the past and in the future. There is a purpose in
lives as human beings, subject to ups and downs. Although we are not
what the purpose is, we know that we must try and achieve a better
not primarily in a material sense, but in a spiritual meaning. This
the Buddhist or Hindu philosophy, which is not really surprising, as
the very first ‘official’ religions that came to Indonesia.
on earth the harshest form of human life can be found tilling the soil,
in the seas or doing other manual labor. It is not only a harsh life,
coarse (kasar). We need to aspire a more refined (halus)
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
children don’ t mind if their toys (cheap ones or expensive ones) break
soon. The disregard for the material also extends to animals and
Both are valued only for their contribution to help people sustain
and are rarely enjoyed as pets or as nature. Maybe that is one reason
environmental movement makes little progress.
keen sense of hierarchy is common in
all Indonesian cultures. Within families we not only distinguish a
between grandparents, parents and children, but also among siblings. In
Javanese universe, parents are at the center. They fulfill their roles
by giving birth, raising children and ensuring that these become
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.
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
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
one who knows everything and has the correct answer in all occasions.
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
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
of speech: that is lying. To us, it is simply a matter of highlighting
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
being a father or a mother is an important social position in
. 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
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 (
) or sister (Mbak). Children are
usually addressed with adik, which
means younger sibling. Everyone, including siblings will address each
similarly and rarely by their name only. Only recently have teenagers
address each other by their given names leaving the traditional mbak or mas
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
making a living and making decisions for the family, but rarely
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
The concept of ‘ladies first’ has its opposite in
. 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
We are also very conscious that our proper attitude should be one of
humble, modest, polite and pious. Arrogance has no place in our mental
and we detest it. When we are very young and begin to talk, our parents
to use our name if we want to talk about ourselves. It is not modest to
‘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
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
Indonesian: berguna bagi nusa dan bangsa. Personal
out of the box, being creative, doing things differently are all
do not fit with the traditional values of modesty, politeness and
yet, there is this other side of the coin. Observing Bapak
especially those who are well off, have a high position and supervise
will definitely notice a high degree of arrogance in quite a few of
Arrogance does not match the ideals of modesty and being humble. It’s
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
one eventually looses a sense of reality. High positions, being praised
time, having power and easy access to resources, becoming arrogant, and
involved with corruption (in the name of obtaining resources for the
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
these are first names. The custom to have a family name has not been
. 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
Sometimes, parents decide to change the name of their child if it
be weak and sick. The rationale is that the child’s name is not
or that a spirit who causes the child to be sick will be fooled if the
suddenly has a different name. Names also may change when one changes
his or her
social or professional position.
Religion and beliefs
is a secular state, the
state philosophy, called Panca Sila (Five
Virtues) mentions that all Indonesians need to adhere to one of the
acknowledged religions: Islam, Christianity, Buddhism or Hinduism. It
difficult to find an Indonesian who will say that he or she is an
idea is incomprehensible, also because atheism and communism have been
for a long time.
, which has the world’s
largest number of Muslims, goes through a process of
deepening religious experience. Not only more and more nominal Muslims
more pious, the same goes for Christians, Buddhists and
In addition to the four acknowledged religions, ancient beliefs, such
mysticism and remnants of animism find fertile ground in the hearts and
Indonesians without causing conflicts with the official
From an anthropological standpoint one could say that religions provide
and direction to life and an understanding of one’s duty, as ordained
In day to day interactions with Indonesians, be prepared to be asked a
questions repeatedly, that is; what is your name, where do you come
from and are
Common law is a concept that does not (officially) exist in
. 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
off at a very young age. Girls of 12 years old were considered to be of
correct age to become wives. Boys usually were a bit older, but not by
Even in today’s
this practice, early
marriage, is the norm in rural communities and even in
poor urban neighborhoods. Fortunately more and more children, with
modern communication media begin to have second thoughts about becoming
at age 13 or 14, but it will still take many years before the practice
Poverty is one of the contributing factors today why parents (and
may push their children and grandchildren into an early marriage,
economic burden for the family of the child bride.
The deeply ingrained fear that ‘something unfortunate’ might happen to
adolescent girl if she begins to interact with boys, or attracts the
of boys is another driving factor to ensure that she finds herself a
many rural communities an unmarried fifteen-year-old girl is considered
spinster and every attempt will be made to marry her off.
Even if the marriage would break down after a few weeks or months,
already fulfilled one’s duty in life (especially if a child has been
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
changing and with them have come new demands to survive. Old
the Javanese social class of priyayi
(the scholars and administrators) and the low class of abangan
no longer exist in modern
. 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
refined one is, the more removed from the coarse and the closer to the
Observing one’s religious duties fits perfectly in this pattern and in
to do so, one needs to be pure, inside and out. Purity is achieved by
cleansing as prescribed in one’s religion and through reading,
understanding and interpreting the Holy Scriptures of the religion.
Stability and harmony
problem with human life is that nothing is constant and that everything
directions that are not always favorable to the individual. Power too
tendency to shift.
Balance in life and balance of power is often as elusive as it is
the situation is not any
We might say that history shows that the overwhelming majority of the
Indonesia many centuries ago and who live in
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.
that message comes across, and several foreigners who have lived in
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,
achieve it many Indonesians have developed a set of behaviors such as
modesty and forgiveness.
Accepting one’s fate and trying to maintain harmony is one thing,
acquire a little more power is what many people do in reality. Although
lotteries and gambling are illegal practices, they still occur and can
as attempts to acquire additional financial means to make life a little
And obviously, the larger the sum the more power one will
There are other ways to increase one’s power. To practice mysticism or
arts to develop the inner strength that lies dormant in each individual
increasingly popular. Walking through markets you will undoubtedly come
vendors selling stones, including gemstones. Their clientele are men
carefully select a stone set in a silver or gold ring. Each stone has
characteristics and the art is to find one that matches one's
Almost all adult men in
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
milestones. These markers are the many ceremonies you may see, either a
ceremony or one transformed into a performance for tourists, such as
dances. All those ceremonies mark the passing from one stage in life to
next. In fact the stages of life begin even before birth, when the
woman and her family (including the neighborhood) celebrate different
the pregnancy as they signify the development of the fetus. The
continue after the death of a person.
All these ceremonies, in any of the cultures in
emphasize that we are part of the cosmic cycle and that we need to take
precautions to maintain the cosmic balance.
Being modest or humble has its expression in that we don’t want to
problems. The other one is that we forgive easily.
Not wanting to create problems we (especially the Javanese) may say
are not always truthful from a foreigners’ perspective. We have been
be deferential: avoiding conflict and confrontation. From our side of
there is no harm at all to say that we agree, while in fact we don’t.
behave like this especially towards seniors. After all, it is ‘not
challenge their opinion.
So, it is far better to pretend than to create an unpleasant atmosphere
house or at work –and thus disrupt harmony. The unpleasant atmosphere
linger for weeks or years, but the pretense will be forgiven
A long time ago, in the colonial days, the Dutch were puzzled about the
rulers, so aloof that they almost completely seemed to ignore the
continued to live as usual. The Dutch also complained that those
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
From an Indonesian, or Javanese standpoint many westerners and, for
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
shouting in public and rude behavior.
Some of us wonder why foreigners can’t behave like we do. How nice it
if foreigners took time to sit down and talk about things or talk about
Even if the topic would be a difficult one, involving a refusal, it
best to wrap the message into nice words and phrases, allowing the
to catch the message indirectly, without being hurt or embarrassed in
presence of others.
Changing perspectives again, even today some foreigners are inclined to
Indonesians as dishonest and impossible to work with. Of course, among
are dishonest people. However, what you might call dishonest can be
in many instances as indirect behavior, aimed to avoid disappointing
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
affirmative. It may happen that long after the confirmation nothing has
happened. At some point you would certainly remind the person, only to
he is still working on it, or still trying to comply. Finally, after
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
would certainly be surprised. After all, the initial confirmation was
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
‘maybe’ or a ‘forget it’.
Obviously, to the outsider, that must seem like a very confusing,
and ineffective way of communicating. The simple solution if you indeed
have a firm yes or no is to ask a little further. Give details of what
how you need it and when. Ask questions about how the person would go
do it or get it and where. All of your asking will emphasize that you
serious about the request. Gradually, applying these filters the true
will emerge, with a smile and nobody will feel offended or
Having said that, things are changing in
. Modern business
requirements leave little time for elaborate questions and
answers that can be interpreted either way. A deal is a deal and time
You will find that well educated people who are used to interact with
or who are professionals will tell you straightforwardly that something
cannot be done. Another sector of society that will give you a firm
shop attendants and customer service staff. Having a discussion with
trying to convince them is a waste of time. It is difficult to blame
individuals as they only follow the rules that have been laid out to
the peraturan (rule), handed down
hierarchically says that it must be done this way then automatically it
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
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
guilt, after all those years they would love to come back to
, but still feared that
their former enemies harbor hard feelings. Those who
eventually ventured to
and met Indonesian
veterans were often moved to tears when they received the
warm welcomes and friendship they had never expected. Let bygones be
let’s be friends, is our message. We don’t have to forget, but we
forgave any wrongdoings and hostilities as soon as the weapons went
expect that we are forgiven likewise.
While being direct or indirect depends on where you are in
, there is one
characteristic that applies to members of all our cultures. It is
known as basa basi or small
There is a tremendous amount of small talk going on, both within the
among business partners and especially in casual contacts. Indonesians
talk and they can talk for hours raising lots of topics, without
touching on the core and always taking care not to offend the
Small talk is related to being evasive while still maintaining a
appearance and a pleasant atmosphere. Basa
basi, if not well understood, may cause embarrassment and
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
With this observation the cycle is almost complete. We have seen that a
sense of hierarchy and seniority, being indirect (or direct), being
(such as comes with basa-basi), modest, and being
careful to maintain the
cosmic balance as well as harmonious relations between people are the
common and most recognizable character traits of Indonesians.
is especially obvious in the annual Muslim celebration of Idulfitri or
at the conclusion of the fast during the month of Ramadan. On the
visit our senior relatives to ask for forgiveness for all the mistakes
wrongdoings we committed, either on purpose or involuntary during the
year. In fact we ask forgiveness to all our friends, colleagues and
After that, reinvigorated, we begin with a clean slate, trying to be
persons in the year ahead, knowing that we have purified ourselves and
Art forms in Indonesia have been influenced by many different cultures
many hundreds of years.
Javanese and Balinese
dances, for example, are based on Hindu
culture and mythology. It is not difficult to see a continuum in the
dances depicting episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata from India,
Thailand all the way to Bali.
There is a marked difference, though between the highly stylized dances
(gamelan) music of the courts of Jogjakarta and Surakarta (Solo) and
While the court dances are promoted and even performed internationally,
popular forms of dance art and drama must largely be discovered locally.
Among the popular art forms of Java are: Reog from
in Central and East Java, Angguk and Jathilan from around Purwokerto.
Another major difference is in the styles of dance and music in Java
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
interlaced with contemporary events or issues -and
Wayang kulit uses two dimensional leather puppets, while wayang
is performed using three dimensional wooden puppets and is shown most
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
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:
a practice session of a keroncong ensemble
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
is a modern musical genre which first surfaced during the 1970s. It is
extremely popular throughout the archipelago among both young and old.
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
They often express natural scenes and themes from the traditional
Furthermore there are several internationally known painters either
or Europeans who settled in Indonesia whose works now fetch very high
Modern Indonesian painters use a wide variety of styles and themes.
Calligraphy, mostly based on the Qur'An is decorative in its special
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
occasions. In addition to the traditional patterns with their special
used for particular occasions, batik designs have become creative and
over the last few years.
At a crossroads between art and sports is
one of the unique martial arts originating from the archipelago.
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