The Culture of Indonesia has been shaped by long interaction between original indigenous customs and multiple foreign influences. Indonesia is central along 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 indigenous cultures.
Examples of cultural fusion include the fusion of Islam with Hindu in Javanese Abangan belief, the fusion of Hinduism, Buddhism and animism in Bodha, and the fusion of Hinduism and animism in Kaharingan; others could be cited.
Indonesian art-forms express this cultural mix. Wayang, traditional theater-performed puppet shows, were a medium in the spread of 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 in a martial art form called Pencak Silat.
Western culture has greatly influenced Indonesia in modern entertainment such as television shows, film and music, as well as political system and issues. 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 Mentawai, Asmat, Dani, Dayak, Toraja and many others are still practicing their ethnic rituals, customs and wearing traditional clothes.
Traditional performing arts
Gamelan player, Yogyakarta
Indonesia is home to various styles 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.
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. After the resignation of President Sukarno, the law was rescinded, and in the 1970s the Glodok prison was dismantled and replaced with a large shopping mall.
Kroncong is a musical genre that uses guitars and ukuleles as the main musical instruments. This genre had its 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 12th century; a contemporary form of Kroncong is called Pop Kroncong.
Angklung musical orchestra, native of West Java, received international recognition as UNESCO has listed the traditional West Java musical instrument made from bamboo in the list of intangible cultural heritage.
The soft Sasando music from the province of East Nusa Tenggara in West Timor is completely different. Sasando uses an instrument made from a split leaf of the Lontar palm (Borassus flabellifer), which bears some resemblance to a harp.
Balinese topeng dance drama.
Indonesian dance reflects the diversity of culture from ethnic groups that composed the nation of Indonesia. Austronesian roots and Melanesian tribal dance forms are visible, and influences ranging from neighboring Asian countries; such as India, China, and Middle East to European western styles through colonization. Each ethnic group has their own distinct dances; makes total dances in Indonesia are more than 3000 Indonesian original dances. However, the dances of Indonesia can be divided into three eras; the Prehistoric Era, the Hindu/Buddhist Era and the Era of Islam, and into two genres; court dance and folk dance.
There is a continuum in the traditional dances depicting episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata from India, ranging 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 Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam has become rather popular and is often portrayed on TV. Reog Ponorogo is also a dance that originated from the district Ponorogo, East Java, which is a visualization of the legendary story Wengker kingdom and the kingdom of Kediri.
A popular line dance called Poco-poco was originated in Indonesia and also popular in Malaysia, but at early April 2011 Malaysian Islamic clerics ban poco-poco dance for Muslims due to they believe it is traditionally a Christian dance and that its steps make the sign of the cross.
Drama and theatre
Wayang, the Javanese, Sundanese, and Balinese shadow puppet theatre shows display several mythological legends such as Ramayana and Mahabharata, and many more. Wayang Orang is Javanese traditional dance drama based on wayang stories. Various Balinese dance drama also can be included within traditional form of Indonesian drama. Another form of local drama is Javanese Ludruk and Ketoprak, Sundanese Sandiwara, and Betawi Lenong. All of these drama incorporated humor and jest, often involving audiences in their performance.
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 legends and love story.
Modern performing art also developed in Indonesia with their distinct style of drama. Notable theatre, dance, and drama troupe such as Teater Koma are gain popularity in Indonesia as their drama often portray social and political satire of Indonesian society.
Pencak Silat demonstration in Jakarta.
The art of silat was created and firstly developed in the islands of Java and Sumatra. It is an art for survival and practiced throughout Indonesian archipelago. Centuries of tribal wars in Indonesian history had shaped silat as it was used by the ancient warriors of Indonesia. Silat was used to determine the rank and position in old Indonesian kingdoms.
Contacts with Indians and Chinese was further enriched silat. Silat reached areas beyond Indonesia mainly through diaspora of Indonesian people. People from various regions like Aceh, Minangkabau, Riau, Bugis, Makassar, Java, Banjar, etc. moved into and settled in Malay Peninsula and other islands. They brought silat and passed it down to their descendants. The Indonesian of half-Dutch descent are also credited as the first to brought the art into Europe.
Silat was used by Indonesian freedom fighters during their struggle against the Dutch colonists. Unfortunately after Indonesia achieving their independence, silat became less popular among Indonesian youth compare to foreign martial arts like Karate and Taekwondo. This probably because silat was not taught openly and only passed down among blood relatives, the other reason is the lack of media portrayal of the art.
Efforts have been made in recent years to introduce and reintroduce the beauty of silat to Indonesian youth and the world. Exhibitions and promotions by individuals as well as state-sponsored groups helped the growing of silat’s popularity, particularly in Europe and United States. Indonesian 2009 Silat movie Merantau is one of Indonesian efforts to introduce silat to international scene.
Another martial art from Indonesia is Tarung Derajat. It is a modern combat system created by Haji Ahmad Drajat based on his experience as a street fighter. Tarung Drajat has been acknowledge as a national sport by KONI in 1998 and is now using by Indonesian Army as part of their basic training.
Traditional visual arts
What Indonesian painting before the 19th century are mostly restricted to the decorative arts, considered to be a religious and spiritual activity, comparable to the pre-1400 European art. Artists name are anonymous, since the individual human creator was seen as far less important than their creation to honor the deities or spirits. Some examples are the Kenyah decorative art, based on endemic natural motifs such as ferns and hornbills, found decorating the walls of Kenyah long houses. Other notable traditional art is the geometric Toraja wood carvings. Balinese painting are initially the narative images to depict scenes of Balinese legends and religious scripts. The classical Balinese paintings are often decorating the lontar manuscripts and also the ceilings of temples pavilion.
Under the influence of the Dutch colonial power, a trend toward Western-style painting emerged in the 19th century. In the Netherlands, the term “Indonesian Painting” is applied to the paintings produced by Dutch or other foreign artists who lived and worked in the former Netherlands-Indies. The most famous indigenous 19th century Indonesian painter is Raden Saleh (1807–1877), the first indigenous artist to study in Europe. His art is heavily influenced by Romanticism. In 1920′s Walter Spies began to settled in Bali, he is often credited with attracting the attention of Western cultural figures to Balinese culture and art. His works has somehow influenced Balinese artists and painters. Today Bali has one of the most vivid and richest painting tradition in Indonesia.
The 1920s to 1940s were a time of growing nationalism in Indonesia. The previous period of romanticism movement was not seen as a purely Indonesian movement and did not developed. Painters began to see the natural world for inspiration. Some examples of Indonesian painter during this period are the Balinese Ida Bagus Made and the realist Basuki Abdullah. The Indonesian Painters Association (Persatuan Ahli-Ahli Gambar Indonesia or PERSAGI, 1938–1942) was formed during this period. PERSAGI established a contemporary art philosophy that saw art works as reflections of the artist’s individual or personal view as well as an expression of national cultural thoughts.
From the 1940s on, artists started to mix Western techniques with Southeast Asian imagery and content. Painters that rooted in the revolutionary movement of the World War and the post-World War period started to appear during this period, such as Sudjojono, Affandi, and Hendra.
During the 1960s, new elements were added when abstract expressionism and Islamic art began to be absorbed by the art community. Also during this period, group of painters that are more concerned about the reality of Indonesian society began to appear, taking inspiration from the social problem such as division between the rich and the poor, pollution, and deforestation. The national identity of Indonesia was stressed by these painters through the use of a realistic, documentary style. During the Sukarno period this socially-engaged art was officially promoted, but after 1965 it lost popularity due to its presumed communist tendencies.
Three art academies offer extensive formal training in visual art: Bandung Institute of Technology founded in 1947; the Akademi Seni Rupa Indonesia (Indonesian Fine Arts Academy) or ASRI, now known as ISI, in Yogyakarta was inaugurated in 1950; and the Institut Kesenian Jakarta (Jakarta Arts Institute) or IKJ, was opened in 1970.
Indonesia has a long history of stone, bronze and iron ages arts. The megalithic sculptures can be found in numerous archaeological sites in Sumatra, Java to Sulawesi. The native Indonesians tribes have their own distinct tribal sculpture styles, usually created to depict ancestors, deities and animals. The pre-Hindu-Budhist and pre-Islamic sculptures can be traced in the artworks of indigenous Indonesian tribes. The most notable sculptures are those of Asmat wooden sculpture of Papua, the Dayak wooden mask and sculpture, the ancestral wooden statue of Toraja, also the totem-like sculpture of Batak and Nias tribe.
The stone sculpture artform particularly flourished in the eighth to tenth centuries Java and Bali, which demonstrate the influences of Hindu-Buddhist culture, both as stand-alone works of art and also incorporated into temples. Most notable sculpture of classical Hindu-Buddhist era of Indonesia are the hundreds of meters of relief and hundreds of stone buddhas at the temple of Borobudur 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. The examples of notable Indonesian Hindu-Buddhist sculptures are; the statues of Hindu deities; Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Durga, Ganesha and Agastya enthroned in rooms of Prambanan temples, the Vishnu mounting Garuda statue of king Airlangga, the exquisite statue of Eastern Javanese Prajnaparamita and 3.7 meters tall Dvarapala dated from Singhasari period, and also the grand statue of Bhairava Adityawarman discovered in Sumatra. Today, the Hindu-Buddhist style stone sculptures are reproduced in villages in Muntilan near Borobudur also in Bali, and sold as garden or pool ornament statues for homes, offices and hotels.
Today in Indonesia, the richest, most elaborate and vivid wooden sculpture and wood carving traditions can be found in Bali and Jepara, Central Java. Balinese handicrafts such as sculptures, masks, and other carving artworks are popular souvenir for tourist that have visited Indonesia. On the other hand the Jepara wood carving are famous for its elaborately carved wooden furnitures, folding screens also pelaminan gebyok (wedding throne with carved background).
For centuries, the most dominant influences on Indonesian architecture were Indian, although European influences have been particularly strong since the nineteenth century and modern architecture in Indonesia is international in scope.
As in much of South East Asia, traditional buildings in Indonesia are built on stilts, with the significant exceptions of Java and Bali. Notable stilt houses 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 eaves, 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 Borobudur temple near Yogyakarta is the largest Buddhist temple in the world, and is notable for incorporating about 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 ninth-century temple complex at Prambanan contains some of the best preserved examples of Hindu temple architecture in Java. 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 Indonesian 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 Suharto 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.
Other worldwide famous Indonesian crafts are Jepara wood carving and Kris. In 2005, UNESCO recognized Kris as one of Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity from Indonesia.
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 agitate for 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, Andrea Hirata, Habiburrahman El Shirazy, Ayu Utami, Gus tf Sakai, Eka Kurniawan, Ratih Kumala, Dee, Oka Rusmini. Some of their works have translated into other languages.
There is a long tradition in Indonesia, particularly among ethnically Malay populations, of extemporary, interactive, oral composition of poetry. These poems are referred to as pantun. Contemporary Indonesian poets include among others, Sutardji Calzoum Bachri, Rendra, Taufiq Ismail, Afrizal Malna, Binhad Nurrohmat, Joko Pinurbo, Sapardi Djoko Damono.
Recreation and sports
Many traditional games are still preserved and popular in Indonesia, although western culture has influenced some parts of them. Among three hundred officially recognized Indonesian cultures, there are many kinds of traditional games: 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. Pencak Silat is another popular form of sport, which was influenced by Asian culture as a whole. Another form of national sport is sepak takraw. The rules are similar to volleyball: to keep the rattan ball in the air with the players’ feet.
Popular modern sports in Indonesia played at the international level include association football and badminton. Indonesian badminton athletes have played in Indonesia Open Badminton Championship, All England Open Badminton Championships and many international events, including the Summer Olympics since badminton was made an Olympic sport in 1992. Rudy Hartono is a legendary Indonesian badminton player, who won All England titles seven times in a row (1968 through 1974). Indonesian teams have won the Thomas Cup (men’s world team championship) thirteen of the twenty-two times that it has been contested since they entered the series in 1957. In the hugely internationally popular sport of soccer (football), Indonesian teams have been active in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
Sporting events in Indonesia are organised by the Indonesian National Sport Committee (KONI). The Committee, along with the government of Indonesia, have set a National Sports Day on every September 9 with “Sports for All” as the motto. Indonesia has hosted the Southeast Asian Games four times, in 1979, 1987, 1997 and 2011, and won overall champion title in each of these years. As of 2011, Indonesia has won champion titles 10 times overall out of 18 SEA Games it has attended since debuted in 1977.
The cuisine of Indonesia has been influenced by Chinese culture and Indian culture, as well as by Western culture. However in return, Indonesian cuisine has also contributed to the cuisines of neighboring countries, notably Malaysia and Singapore, where Padang or Minangkabau cuisine from West Sumatra is very popular. Also Satay (Sate in Indonesian), which originated from Java, Madura, and Sumatra, has gained popularity as a street vendor food from Singapore to Thailand. In the fifteenth century, both the Portuguese and Arab traders arrived in Indonesia with the intention of trading for pepper and other spices. During the colonial era, immigrants from many different countries have arrived in Indonesia and brought different cultures as well as cuisines.
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.
The most important aspect of modern Indonesia cuisine is that food must be halal, conforming to Islamic food laws. Haraam, the opposite of halal, includes pork and alcoholic drinks. However, in some regions where there is significant non-Muslim population, non-halal food are also commonly served.
Indonesian dishes are usually spicy, using a wide range of chili peppers 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 in dishes of sambal oelek (hot pungent chili sauce). The sprinkling of fried shallots also gives a unique crisp texture to some Indonesian dishes.
Chinese and Indian cultures have influenced the serving of food and the 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’.
The largest chain of cinemas in Indonesia is 21Cineplex, which has cinemas spread throughout twenty-four cities on the major islands of Indonesia. Many smaller independent cinemas also exist.
In the 1980s, the film industry in Indonesia was at its peak, and dominated the cinemas in Indonesia with movies that have retained a high reputation, such as Catatan Si Boy and Blok M and actors like Onky Alexander, Meriam Bellina, Nike Ardilla and Paramitha Rusady. However, the film industry failed to continue its successes in the 1990s, when the number of movies produced decreased significantly, from 115 movies in 1990 to just 37 in 1993. As a result, most movies produced in the ’90s contained adult themes. In addition, movies from Hollywood and Hong Kong started to dominate Indonesian cinema. 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. Another form of recovery is the re-establishment of the Indonesian Film Festival (FFI), inactive for twelve years, and the creation of the Jakarta International Film Festival. Daun di Atas Bantal (1998) received The Best Movie award in the 1998 Asia Pacific Film Festival in Taipei.
Television in Indonesia began on August 24, 1962 in Jakarta with the state-run station, TVRI, which began broadcasting on the seventeenth anniversary of Indonesian Independence. 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.
Each of the network has a wide variety of programs, ranging from traditional show, such as wayang performance, to programs like Indonesian Idol that are based on Western models. One typical television show of almost every network is sinetron Sinetron is usually a drama series, following the soap opera format, but can also refer to any fictional series. Sometimes it can be comic, like the popular Bajaj Bajuri series, featuring a bajaj (a taxi-like tricycle) driver and the people he drives around.
The state radio network Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI) was founded in 1945. It consists of a network of regional stations located in all thirty-three 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.
Religion and philosophy
Islam is Indonesia’s main religion, with almost 88% of Indonesians declared Muslim according to the 2000 census, making Indonesia the most populous Muslim-majority nation in the world. The remaining population is 9% Christian (of which roughly two-thirds are Protestant with the remainder mainly Catholic, and a large minority Charismatic), 2% Hindu and 1% Buddhist.
The Pancasila, the statement of two principles which encapsulate the ideology of the Indonesian state, affirms that “The state shall be based on the belief in the one and only God”.
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