Culture of Indonesia

Indonesian culture has been shaped by long interaction between original indigenous customs and multiple foreign influences. Indonesia is central among ancient trading routes between the Far East and the Middle East, resulting in many cultural practices being strongly influenced by a multitude of religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Islam, all strong in the major trading cities. The result is a complex cultural mixture very different from the original. Examples include Agama Hindu Dharma, a denomination of Hinduism now practiced by 93% of Balinese, the fusion of Islam with Hindu in Javanese Abangan belief, the fusion of Hinduism, Buddhism and animism in Bodha, the fusion of Hinduism and animism in Kaharingan, and many others.

Indonesian art-forms express this cultural mix. Wayang, traditional theater-performed puppet shows, were used to spread Hinduism and Islam amongst Javan villagers. Both Javanese and Balinese dances have stories about ancient Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms, while Islamic art forms and architecture are present in Sumatra, especially in the Minangkabau and Aceh regions. Traditional art, music and sport are combined into a martial art form called Pencak Silat.

Western culture has influenced Indonesia mostly in modern entertainment such as television shows, movies and songs. India has notably influenced Indonesian songs and movies. A popular type of song is the Indian-rhythmical dangdut, which is often mixed with Arab and Malay folk music.

Despite the influences of foreign culture, some remote Indonesian regions still preserve uniquely indigenous culture. Indigenous ethnic groups of Mentawai, Asmat, Dani, Dayak, Toraja and many others are still practising their ethnic rituals, customs and wearing traditional clothes.

Performing arts


Indonesia is home to hundreds of forms of music, with those from the islands of Java, Sumatra and Bali being frequently recorded. The traditional music of central and East Java and Bali is the gamelan.

In 1965, a law was passed (Panpres 11/1965) banning Western-style pop or rock music. On June 29, 1965, Koes Plus, a leading Indonesian pop group in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, was imprisoned in Glodok, West Jakarta, for playing Western-style music. [1] After President Soekarno resigned and PKI disbanded, the law was rescinded, and in the 1970s the Glodok prison was destroyed to be replaced with a large shopping mall. The new mall in Glodok is now the centre of recording, production and distribution of modern Indonesian pop and rock music.

Dangdut is a very popular[citation needed] style of music with an accompanying free dance style.

Kroncong is a musical genre that uses guitars and ukuleles as the main musical instruments. This genre had it's roots in Portugal and was introduced by Portuguese traders in the 15th century. There is a traditional "Keroncong Tugu" music group in North Jakarta and other traditional Keroncong music groups in Maluku, with strong Portuguese influences. This music genre was popular in the first half of the 20th century. A more modern form of Kroncong is called Pop Kroncong. In addition, there are regional variations such as Langgam Jawa, which is most popular in Central Java and Yogyakarta[citation needed].

The soft Sasando music from the province of East Nusa Tenggara in West Timor is completely different. Sasando uses an instrument made from a leaf of the lontar palm, which bears some resemblance to a harp.

In West Java, popular musical styles include Degung and Angklung.[citation needed]


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 of the courts of Yogyakarta and Surakarta 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.

During the last few years Saman from Aceh in North Sumatra has become rather popular and is often performed on TV.

Drama and theatre

The Javanese and Balinese shadow puppet theatre shows display several mythological events.

Randai is a folk theatre tradition of the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra, usually performed for traditional ceremonies and festivals. It incorporates music, singing, dance, drama and the silat martial art, with performances often based on semi-historical Minangkabau stories and legends.

Visual arts

Indonesia is not generally known for paintings, but there are unique works of art, primarily the intricate and expressive Balinese paintings. They often express natural scenes and themes from the traditional dances. Some foreign painters have also settled in Indonesia. Modern Indonesian painters use a wide variety of styles and themes. Calligraphy, mostly based on the Qur'an, is often used as decoration as Islam forbids naturalistic depictions.


Indonesia has a long-he Bronze and Iron Ages, but the art-form particularly flourished in the eighth to tenth centuries, both as stand-alone works of art, and also incorporated into temples.

Most notable are the hundreds of meters of relief sculpture at the temple of Borobodur in Central Java. Approximately two miles of exquisite relief sculpture tell the story of the life of Buddha and illustrate his teachings. The temple was originally home to 504 statues of the seated Buddha. This site, as with others in Central Java, show a clear Indian influence.


For centuries, the most dominant influences on Indonesian architecture were Indian, although European influences have been particularly strong since the nineteenth century.

Like much of South East Asia, traditional buildings in Indonesia are built on stilts with the significant exceptions of Java and Bali. Notable stilt house are those of the Dayak people in Borneo, the Rumah Gadang of the Minangkabau people in western Sumatra, the Batak people in northern Sumatra, and the Tongkonan of the Toraja people in Sulawesi. Oversized saddle roofs with large eves are, such as the homes of the Batak and the tongkonan of Toraja, are often bigger than the house they shelter. The fronts of Torajan houses are frequently decorated with buffalo horns, stacked one above another, as an indication of status. The outside walls also frequently feature decorative reliefs.

The eighth-century Borobodur temple near Yogyakarta is the largest Buddhist temple in the world, and is notable for incorporating c.160 relief panels into its structure, telling the story of the life of the Buddha. As the visitor ascends through the eight levels of the temple, the story unfolds, the final three levels simply containing stupas and statues of the Buddha. The building is said to incorporate a map of the Buddhist cosmos and is a masterful fusion of the didactic, the monumental and the serene.

The nearby temple complex at Prambanan are amongst the best preserved examples of Hindu temple architecture in Java. Built in the ninth century, the temple complex comprises eight main shrines, surrounded by 250 smaller shrines. The Indian influence on the site is clear, not only in the style of the monument, but also in the reliefs featuring scenes from the Ramayana which adorn the outer walls of the main temples, and in the votive statuary found within.


Several Islands are famous for their batik, ikat and songket 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.


Pramoedya Ananta Toer was Indonesia's most internationally celebrated author, having won the Magsaysay Award as well as being considered for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Other important figures include the late Chairil Anwar, a poet and member of the Generation 45 group of authors who were active in the Indonesian independence movement. Tight information controls during Suharto's presidency suppressed new writing, especially because of its ability to create social reform.

In the book Max Havelaar, Dutch author Multatuli criticised the Dutch treatment of the Indonesians, which gained him international attention.

Modern Indonesian authors include Seno Gumira Adjidarma, Ayu Utami, Gus tf Sakai, Eka Kurniawan, Ratih Kumala, Dee, Oka Rusmini. A few of their works have translated into another languages.


There is a long tradition in Indonesia, and particularly among ethnically Malay populations, of extemporary, interactive, oral composition of poetry. These poems are referred to as pantun.

Recreation and sports

Many traditional games are still preserved and popular in Indonesia, although western culture has influenced some parts of them. Due to 300 different cultures, there are many kinds of traditional games throughout the country. For instance, cockfighting in Bali, annual bull races in Madura, and stone jumping in Nias. Stone jumping involves leaping over a stone wall about up to 1.5 m high and was originally used to train warriors to jump over enemy walls. Pencak Silat is another popular form of sport, which was influenced by Malay and also Asian culture as a whole. Another form of national sport is sepak takraw, which is also influenced by Malay and Thai cultures.[2] The rules of the game are similar to volleyball: to keep the rattan ball in the air with the players' feet.

Popular modern sports in Indonesia include soccer and badminton. Most of these sports have been played at the international level. Indonesian badminton athletes have played in Indonesia Open Badminton Championship, All England Open Badminton Championships and many international events, including summer Olympics ever since badminton was played again in the 1992 Summer Olympics. Rudy Hartono is a legendary Indonesian badminton player, who has succeeded to win All England titles six times in a row.[3] Another international level sport is soccer, which mostly active in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

The sporting events in Indonesia are organised by the Indonesian National Sport Committee (KONI). The Committee, along with the government of Indonesia, have set the National Sports Day on every September 9 with "Sports for All" as the motto. Jakarta has hosted the Southeast Asian Games 3 times, in 1979, 1987 and 1997, and came top of the medal table in each of these years.[4] Indonesia has come top of the medal table at nine of the fifteen games it attended.


The cuisine of Indonesia has been influenced by Asian cultures, including Chinese and Indian, as well as by Western culture. However in return, Indonesian cuisine has also contributed to and influenced neighboring countries' cuisines, such as those of Malaysia and Singapore. Padang or Minangkabau cuisine from West Sumatra is very popular in Malaysia and Singapore. Also Satay (Sate in Indonesian), which originated from Java, Madura, and Sumatra has gained popularity as a tasty street vendor food from Singapore and Malaysia all the way to Thailand. In the fifteenth century, the Portuguese arrived on the Indonesian shores with the intention of trading spices from Indonesia. Beginning in the colonial era, immigrants from many different countries have arrived in Indonesia and brought different cultures as well as cuisines. Moreover, in the same century, many Arab traders also arrived in the nation and brought more of their ethnic culture.

Most native Indonesians eat rice as the main dish, with a wide range of vegetables and meat as side dishes. However, in some parts of the country, such as Irian Jaya and Ambon, the majority of the people eat sago (a type of tapioca) and sweet potato.[5]

The most important aspect of Indonesia cuisine is that food must be halal, which is an Islamic philosophy similar in concept to Kosher in Judaism. Haram, which is the opposite of halal, includes pork and alcoholic drinks.

Indonesian dishes are usually spicy, using a wide range of chillies and spices. The most popular dishes include nasi goreng (fried rice), Satay, Nasi Padang (a dish of Minangkabau) and soy-based dishes, such as tofu and tempe. A unique characteristic of some Indonesian food is the application of spicy peanut sauce in their dishes, as a dressing for Gado-gado or Karedok (Indonesian style salad), or for seasoning grilled chicken satay. Another unique aspect of Indonesian cuisine is using terasi or belacan, a pungent shrimp paste to add taste for certain dishes, especially sambal oelek (hot pungent chili sauce). The sprinkling of fried shallots (small red onion) also gives a unique crispy taste to some Indonesian dishes.

Asian culture, such as Chinese and Indian, have influenced the cuisine of Indonesia in many ways, including the serving of food and types of spices used. It is very common to find Chinese food in Indonesia such as Dim Sum as well as noodles, and Indian cuisine such as Tandoori chicken. In addition, Western culture has significantly contributed to the extensive range of dishes. However, the dishes have been transformed to suit Indonesian people's tastes. For example, steaks are usually served with rice. Popular fast foods such as Kentucky Fried Chicken are served with rice instead of bread, and sambal (spicy sauce)instead of ketchup. Some Indonesian foods have been adopted by the Dutch, like Indonesian Rice Table or 'rijsttafel'.

Popular media

The largest chain of cinemas in Indonesia is 21Cineplex, which has cinemas spread throughout twenty-four cities on the islands of Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, Bali and Sulawesi. However, many smaller independent cinemas also exist.

In the 1980s, the film industry in Indonesia was at its peak, and it also dominated the cinemas in Indonesia. The movies, including Catatan Si Boy and Blok M, gained high success and were considered legendary movies by many in the history of Indonesian cinema. The actors such as Onky Alexander, Meriam Bellina, Nike Ardilla and Paramitha Rusady were considered young at that time.[6] However, the film industry failed to gain more success in the 1990s, when the number of movies produced decreased significantly, from 115 movies in 1990 to just 37 in 1993.[7] As a result, most movies produced in the '90s contained adult themes. In addition, movies from Hollywood and Hong Kong started to dominate the cinemas in the country. The industry started to recover in the late 1990s, with the rise of independent directors and many new movies produced, such as Garin Nugroho's Cinta dalam Sepotong Roti, Riri Riza and Mira Lesmana's Petualangan Sherina and Arisan! by Nia Dinata.[6] Another form of recovery is the re-establishment of the Indonesian Film Festival (FFI), which had been inactive for 12 years. This is now running again, as the Jakarta International Film Festival. Daun Di Atas Bantal (1998) has received The Best Movie award on Asia Pacific Film Festival in Taipei (1998).[citation needed]


Television in Indonesia began on the August 17, 1962 in Jakarta with the state-run station, TVRI, which began broadcasting on the seventeenth anniversary of Indonesian Independence.[citation needed] It held a television monopoly in Indonesia until 1989 when the first commercial station, RCTI(Rajawali Citra Televisi Indonesia) began as a local station and was subsequently granted a national license a year later.

Since then, several commercial stations have started up. As of 2006, eleven national-wide commercial networks are available, including RCTI, TPI, SCTV, antv, Indosiar, Metro TV, TV7, Trans TV, Lativi, and Global TV. Several regional television stations are formed in all over the country, even in remote and poor areas.[citation needed] Commonly, local government run directly these stations.[citation needed]

Each of the network has a wide variety of programs, ranging from traditional show, such as wayang performance, to Western programs (for example, the Indonesian Idol). One typical television show of almost every networks is sinetron (abbr. from electronic cinema). Sinetron is usually a drama series, following the soap opera format, but can also refer to any fictional series. Sometimes it can be comedy in nature, like the popular Bajaj Bajuri series, featuring a bajaj (a taxi-like tricycle) driver and the people he drives around.

During 2006, trial transmissions of digital TV (DVB-T) took place in Jakarta.[citation needed] Digital cable PayTV transmission service through fibre optic is available in Bekasi, near Jakarta and several apartments in Jakarta.[citation needed] Digital satellite PayTV transmission services (DVB-S) are available throughout Indonesia.[citation needed]


The state radio network Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI) was founded in 1945. It consists of a network of regional stations located in all 33 provinces of the archipelago. In most cities and large towns there are also many commercial stations. Since 2006, several digital radio stations have been based in Jakarta and Surabaya, using Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) and Hybrid HD-Radio. [citation needed].

Religion and philosophy

Islam is Indonesia's main religion, with almost 88% of Indonesians declared Muslim according to the 2000 census[8], making Indonesia the most populous Muslim-majority nation in the world. The remaining population is 9% Christian (of which roughly 2/3 are Protestant with the remainder mainly Catholic, and a large minority Charismatic), 2% Hindu and 1% Buddhist. The Pancasila (the statement of five principles which are said to encapsulate the ideology of the independent Indonesian state) states that: "The state shall be based on the belief in the one and only God".

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