This island state has been a major hub for trading since ancient times, as it is centrally located among history’s superpowers, which is why you can expect to witness all the world’s major religions living harmoniously side by side. Indonesian culture is focused around the community, with a hierarchical structure. Indonesians believe in the concept of gotong royong (mutual assistance) and mufakat (consensus), and the national motto is Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in diversity). Jam Karet (rubber time) highlights the cultural attitude: that life should not be rushed – everything has its time and place.
Language of Indonesia
Indonesia has a standardised dialect of the Malay language, known as Bahasa Indonesian, which was declared as the official language of Indonesia during the nation’s independence in 1945. However, due to the numerous islands, most people tend to speak the regional dialects of their island or community, such as Javanese (from Java), Balinese (from Bali) and Minangkabau (from western Sumatra).
Religion in Indonesia
Indonesia is the largest nation with people following the Islamic faith in the world, with 88% of the population being Muslim. In addition, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity are all practised and prevalent within Indonesia.
Generally, all the religions get on and follow the mottos of ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged’ and ‘Do unto others as you would do to yourself’. There are also still many ethnic peoples who practice their indigenous customs, wear traditional dress, and often believe in animism. Animists believe that the gods inhabit the mountains, especially Bali’s tallest mountain, the stratovolcano Mount Agung.
Due to the diversity, you can see religions that have been fused with different influences, and you can witness this during the many colorful religious festivals, which play a major part in the culture of Indonesia.
Arts in Indonesia
Indonesia is rich in the arts, with something for everyone. One of the most unique events you can enjoy as a visitor to Indonesia is Wayang, the shadow puppet theater or dance shows, which intricately crafts together mythological legends with traditional performing arts.
Dance in Indonesia
Dance in Indonesia plays a major role in the culture, and many performers have usually been practicing under the guidance of an expert since childhood. The dance style is very expressive, precise, and often somewhat surprising.
There are over 3,000 Indonesian original dances, sometimes with tribal roots. Bali is the ideal location if you wish to witness cultural dances first-hand when you travel in Indonesia. The dance dramas of Bali are intertwined with Buddhist and Hindu mythology from the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
The Barong & Rangda’s dance of good over evil is probably the most famous of the Balinese Hindu dances, depicting demon queens and child eaters, while the Legong dance is considered the most graceful. A masked dance, known as Topeng, brings to life the Balinese language, while chronicling the island’s history or social issues in a comical way.
Martial arts are also popular in Indonesia:
- Silat, is a self-defense martial arts that was developed in the islands of Java and Sumatra, which has been shaped by the tribal wars of Indonesia’s ancient history, and also by proponents of independence during the Dutch colonial rule.
- Tarung Derajat is a modern street fighter style of combat.
- The martial art form of Pencak Silat interweaves traditional art, music and sport.
Music in Indonesia
The music of Indonesia is also varied and it is well worth taking time out to enjoy a performance or two during your tour of Indonesia. When visiting Java in 1580, Sir Frances Drake was mesmerized by the exotic music with its metallic timbre.
Gamelan, used in East Java and Bali, is a popular traditional instrument ensemble, that includes bronze percussion instruments, such as metal pots, gongs and drums. Kroncong music dates back to the 16th century when Portuguese sailors brought their native instruments to Indonesia, and is a melodic ensemble of string instruments, (including the kroncong, which is similar to a ukulele), a flute and a female vocalist. Songs tend to be melancholic and of love and natural beauty. Sasando music from West Timor is a soft style of music, which uses a lead that provides a timbre similar to a harp. Native to West Java, angklung music has become known globally due to its traditional bamboo angklung instrument, receiving UNESCO status.
In modern times, the Bollywood culture of India has also had an influence on the nation’s music.
Traditional sports in Indonesia
Indonesia is home to an array of traditional sports, from Balinese cockfighting to the annual bull races in Madura, to stone jumping that was used to train warriors, and sepak takraw, a game similar to volleyball.
Arts & crafts of Indonesia
Indonesia has always had a history of arts, with influence from as far back as the stone age. You can see some of the best examples in the many temples of its islands, and its architecture,including traditional timber structures that are built on stilts. You can find a presence of animist traditions and tribal art in most of the nation’s crafts, as well as styles with strong Hindu and Buddhist roots.
In Java, you can experience many types of craft – from canvas art to wood carving, handmade, intricate silverwork, clay and stone sculpture. The island also is a major center for batik, ikat and songket cloth, all of which originate from Indonesia.
In Sumatra, you can witness excellent examples of Islamic art and architecture. In Bali and Java, you can see the wayang kulit, the shadow puppets, made of buffalo hide and then painted.