Culture of Indonesia – Explore the Vibrant Traditions, Cuisine and More!

The world's largest archipelago, with over 17,000 islands, is also home to a beguiling blend of over 300 native dialects that are spoken by its 250-odd million inhabitants. The country's national motto of “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika”, meaning Unity in Diversity in Old Javanese typifies the rich heritage that is woven into the fabric of the Indonesian identity. The lingua franca of Bahasa Indonesia is spoken by almost everybody in the country, common to the young, vibrant mall-going Jakarta population, to the Hindu-majority Balinese community, to the heartlands of Borneo and Sumatra, all the way to the furthest reaches to Raja Ampat. Each region in Indonesia has a distinct culture unique to its own sensibilities and a traverse across the archipelago will leave you in awe of the sheer diversity and variety of cultures and traditions that one becomes exposed to.

1. Traditions in Indonesia

With the culture of Indonesia being poles apart from its neighbours and also any other country, in fact, there are some traditions in Indonesia that are quite strong and unique to this country. Let's delve a bit further into that, shall we? 

1. The Peculiar Naming System 

Balinese family
Indonesian people have a unique approach when it comes to naming their children. Very minimally, they stick to just four groups of names in the family given in the order of the birth. The firstborn would be named Putu, Wayan or Gede, the second being Made or Kadek, the third Nyoman or Komang, and lastly, the fourth born is named Ketut. This naming cycle is repeated after four children. So basically the fifth one does not get a privilege of a new name but goes by Wayan Balik (meaning another Wayan).

This structure is followed for both males and females! Also, there is no system of a family name. So don’t get lost, it might get tricky to find your guide Putu just by his name.

2. The Beautiful Canang Sari Ritual

Canang Sari - daily offering
Another fascinating practice in the culture of Indonesia is the daily offering to Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa every morning called Canang Sari. It’s a preparation of a beautiful basket made out of palm leaves, encompassing stuff like lime, betel nuts, tobacco, rice and different coloured flowers in specific directions, which signifies particular Hindu Gods. For instance, red coloured flowers pointing in south direction signify Brahma. This casket is topped with some amount of money that represents the essence (“Sari”) of the offering (“Canang”).

So now when you visit Bali, you’ll know what all these palm leaf baskets placed at the threshold of every house, shop and the temple is!

3. Checkered Sarongs or Saput Poleng on Religious Idols

Saput poleng - checkered sarong
So one thing you'll notice on your trip to Indonesia is that every religious idol is draped in a black and white checkered cloth. The black and white colour is said to depict the evil and good spirits in every individual and the world, and how it comes together to work in harmony. The sarongs are called Saput Poleng, Saput meaning a ‘blanket,’ and Poleng meaning ‘in two tones.’ Balinese people drape this sacred cloth around the idols as a sign of daily offerings. Saput Poleng can be wrapped around other structures and trees too, signifying spirits residing among them. Spooky right?

2. Temples of Indonesia

Tanah Lot Temple
Indonesia has the most peaceful, pure, and beautiful temples. They’re a delight for the eyes and the soul. The Pura Tirta Empul temple, the seaside Tanah Lot temple, among others, are some exemplars of the unaccountable beauty and serenity what defines, the culture of Indonesia. Certain traditions, however, are followed inside these temples. It is considered disrespectful to have open hair or a show of legs. Hence every visitor is asked to drape a sarong around their waist to cover their legs and tie up their hair inside the spiritual area.

3. Food of Indonesia

food of Indonesia
Indonesian food is absolutely mouth-watering and is a haven for all non-vegetarian lovers. Their aromatic strength of flavours is a result of freshly used herbs and spices. The most popular dishes include Satay, Beef Rendang, Ikan Bakar, Fried Rice, Nasi Rawon, and much more.

So if you have a knack for savoury and piquancy, food in Indonesia is a must-try! You might need some tissues for your runny nose later though.

4. Art of Indonesia

Wayang puppet art
The spirituality and culture of Indonesia are richly portrayed through its sculptures and wooden carvings. From artistic masks, intricate paintings, captivating wayang puppet theatre art, alluring dream catchers to beautifully silver-thread woven sarongs called Songket, everything connects us to their diverse culture. So grab some of those pretty dream catchers from quaint little shops! They’re worth every penny.

5. Festivals of Indonesia

Jember fashion carnival
The vibrancy and joy of celebration can be heard throughout the year in this archipelago. Festivals like Nyepi – Balinese new year, Jember Fashion Carnival – celebrated in East Java showcasing fashion trends of Indonesia, Sekaten – a week-long celebration of the birth of Prophet Muhammad are the perfect chances to see all the richness and excitement of Indonesian culture live! Throughout the year, a variety of festivals in Indonesia are celebrated, making it a fascinating location for tourists all year long!

6. Music and Dance of Indonesia

Music of Indonesia
Music and dance are traits of a country that can instantly connect a soul to a place. The country is popular for its tribal and classical music, accompanied by embellishing dance forms as diverse as the culture of Indonesia.

Gamelan – a traditional musical instrument originating from Java and Bali, along with gamelan dance can make you lose yourself in divine rhythm.
Saman – a spectacular dance form characterized by its fast-paced rhythm and synchronization will leave you astounded.
Dance of indonesia
Other dance formers include Kecak – the monkey chant dance is very well received for its extreme fire actions, Oleg – the dance of bumblebees performed by a male and female Balinese, and Legong – an elegant Balinese dance form with intricate finger movements and complex footwork.

In a nutshell, this land possesses not only alluring beauty but the richness of traditions buried in its soils. Be it from religions flourishing on its land, over 700 distinct languages spoken, possessing a multitude of cultures, or having amazing delicacies representing the entirety of Southeast Asia.

7. Languages in Indonesia

Langauges spoken in Indonesia
Spoken predominantly in eastern and central Java in Indonesia, Javanese is the native language of Indonesia with over 98 million people or about 42% of the country's population. Pockets of Malaysia and Singapore also have Javanese speakers. It's written in the Arabic, Javanese and Latin script. Other languages spoken here are Sudanese, Madurese and Balinese amongst other local languages in Indonesia. Balinese is the most familiar to foreign tourists. 

8. Architecture of Indonesia

architecture of Indonesia
Indonesian architecture, much like the country itself, is incredibly diverse and captivating. It reflects the melting pot of cultures that Indonesia has been, and shows us how traders and merchants that came here over the centuries have shaped its structures. One can see Chinese, Arab, European and Indian influences mixed together with traditional ethnic designs, which gave rise to the distinct flavour that Indonesian architecture has. The traditional vernacular homes there are called Rumah Adat. 

Religious architecture in Bali has gotten global recognition for its beautiful hand-carved pillars on the temples and the sheer scale and beauty of the structures. Some structures go back to the 4th century AD. 

This magnificent country has a lot more to offer than just beach fun. So dive in and explore the culture of Indonesia first hand!

This post was published by Hitti Maheshwari

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