Indonesia history has been shaped by distinct and interesting geographical composition and location; the extensive archipelago sits between the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean in Southeast Asia south of the Philippines. Historically it was called the West Indies. It is in a position alongside important sea routes spanning the Indian to the Pacific Ocean. This fact is an important one when discussing Indonesian culture and its considerable diversity, which has, to a great extent, been molded by the setting. Indonesia’s physical backdrop lends to its social makeup. Adjustment to the physical environment over centuries through complicated interactions has created unmistakable cultural groups with distinct roles and traditions.
Both Hinduism and Buddhism arrived from India around the 1st century, with the earliest Hindu influences evident in the 4th century in Java. Islam arrived via traders coming in from Gujarat in India circa the 11th century, surpassing both aforementioned religions by the 16th century. At the same time, the Portuguese traveled to and from Lisbon dominating the spice trade and simultaneously warring over coveted routes with the British, Dutch, and Indonesians.
The Golden Age in the 16th century was a time when the Netherlands signed the Union of Utrecht, vowing to fight Spanish occupation. Their port was recaptured and military and trade ships were sent out in an alliance with Belgium. Following this, the Dutch East India Company was created in 1602 by States General of the Netherlands and received a monopoly on trading within Asia for 20 years.
Indonesia was occupied by the Japanese from 1942 through 1945 during WWII, and they were almost welcomed as liberators of the Indonesians from the Dutch until the occupation proved to be ruinous and oppressive. The Dutch lost their grip on Indonesia and subsequently, after the Japanese surrendered at wars end, Indonesia’s freedom struggle succeeded and the country’s leader eventually declared independence in 1945.
Indonesia Culture & Arts
Indonesia Culture & Arts
Indonesia’s rich and varied blend of art and cultures includes wayang kulit, shadow puppet plays popular throughout Indonesia history and favored most in Bali. They are not just for fun; these shows exemplify Indonesian culture through religion, myth, and morality. Musically, Bali is a favorite for traditional gamelan (literally translated as “bronze instruments”) melodies accompanied by traditional Balinese dancing. Traditionally these regional arts were learned from expert villagers but since the 1960s two schools for performing arts carry on the important traditions. In Indonesia history sculptures have great importance; these megaliths are located in Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Java in important archeological sites where distinct tribal sculpting styles are evident, most depicting animals, ancestors, and deities. Borobudar temple in Central Java is home to one of the most notable of these with classic Hindu-Buddhist period of Indonesia. Traditional batiks are also integral to Indonesian culture and depict the conceptualization of the universe through colors representing Hindu Gods.
Indonesian cuisine includes several staple ingredients; corn, long grain and glutinous rice, and sago, derived from the sago tree trunk as a powder and cooked into food. Widely used spices include ginger, coriander, and cumin, all fairly mild. Most food is created with flavors that contrast such as hot or spicy sweet sauce served over plain white rice. Traditional dishes include fried or roasted chicken (Ayam Kalasan or Taliwang, chicken and noodle soup (Soto Ayam), stewed vegetables and peanut sauce (Gado-Gado), and beef curry (Rendang Pedang). On the street, the food is equally enticing. Food stalls are called warung, and serve up myriad different meals from Chinese seamed buns to fried noodles, spicy omelets, and different kinds of meats. These are often made using traditional family formulas. There are small sidewalk cafes called Lesehan, and “walking” restaurants called Pikulan supported by a bamboo pole and carried by the vendor.
The Javanese are the largest of any ethnic group in Indonesia, numbering around 85 million. Most call themselves Muslims with ancestors known to be aptly migratory, traveling to everywhere in the region over centuries, including Madagascar and the Philippines. The complex dialect spoken by the Javanese indicates social status. There are more than 300 additional ethnic groups in Indonesia including the Sudanese, Malay, Chinese, and Madurese of East Java. West, Central, and East Java have a large mix of ethnic groups as does Jakarta. Some of the more remote indigenous tribes in Indonesia include the more recently discovered Korowai Tribe, called “tree dwellers” southeast of Papua. In West Papua are the pygmies, called the Yali Tribe, living in the Jayawijaya Mountains. One of the more notorious tribes are the cannibals, known as the Asmat, living on the south coast of West Papua among the tidal swamps.