Indonesia Culture and Traditions


Bhinneka Tunggal Ika is the national motto of Indonesia, a country located in Asia according to Medicinelearners. It means “United in diversity” and best represents the contradictions and the many souls that belong to it. The process of democratization, opening up and development of Indonesia, which, started at the end of the twentieth century, has the economy as its main engine, is reflected in cultural life, on which, historically, the first element of influence has been the physical structure of the country (it is the largest island state in the world). A crossroads of cultures, religions, peoples and civilizations that have left traces of their passage and have contributed to the stratification of beliefs, values, ways of life still present and inserted in a never easy coexistence. An exemplary testimony of this mixture are the wonders that UNESCO has inscribed among the World Heritage Sites: Bārābudur (1991); Hinduism in the Prambanan Complex (1991); the origins of humanity in the ancient site of the prehistoric man of Sangiran (1996).); the union between man and nature in the Cultural Landscape of the Province of Bali: the Subak system as a manifestation of the Tri Hita Karana philosophy (2012). The collection and enhancement of such an intense legacy is, today, the burden and honor of the younger generations, who welcome the stimuli of contemporary European art, Western music, American cinema, Far Eastern technology and make them their own, very often re-reading them in the light of the traditions in which they are immersed and which they do not want to ignore. Just as they do not renounce confronting the country’s cumbersome and difficult recent socio-political past and the legacies it has left in every area. Also and above all those who live abroad, artists, intellectuals, journalists who, expelled or left autonomously, experience a position of cultural avant-garde. Like Semsar Siahaan (1952-2005), painter and political activist who has spent the last few years in Canada and who has represented perhaps the most active component of the ongoing renewal, women. Art, cinema, music, literature, benefit from a kind of renaissance of a social part, the female one, which has suffered most severely injustices, indifference, passivity. An example of the synthesis of tradition, modernity, social redemption is Inul Caratista (b. 1979), singer and dancer of dangdut, a traditional musical genre adapted to the sounds of the third millennium. Finally, the cultural and artistic ferment is a reason for growing attraction for the international public, and more so since 2004, when the tsunami disaster risked compromising tourism essentially linked to the natural beauties of the Indonesian islands, Java and Bali above all.


An archipelago rich in traditions, Indonesia underwent a strong Hindu influence starting from the century. IV d. C. with consequent transformation of rites and customs, which the subsequent Islamic influence, especially of the century. XVI, was no longer able to radically change. It was then the Europeans (Portuguese, English, Dutch) who had greater weight in the evolution of the indigenous custom. Indonesia, like many other countries in the Asian area, manifests a profound mystical sense that is united with a sensual taste of life, in which the worship of ancestors and magic are present. The central concept of life is related to mana, the energy that flows in everything and that man must dominate. The mana is also present in some men, but within the sovereign. Faith in mana it was also felt by the headhunters, who in the macabre trophy saw the growth of their own personal energy and that of the village. Genes, legends, myths, divinations find enormous echo in the life of Indonesian, as well as the cult of the ancestors. The religious spirit takes shape in the “thousand temples” of Bali, with three courtyards, the last of which is the most silent, meaning the moment of contact with the gods, away from the noise of life and where trees, sacred beings, they are inserted in the sacred architecture. Hindu concepts and local gods have merged. In Java, Devi Shri, goddess of rice, mystical consort of Viṣṇu, is worshiped. The gods of Bali are offered rice, fruit and flowers, brought by women who, in addition to cultivating rice, do all other jobs. Religious holidays are many throughout Indonesia. Alongside those of Muslim inspiration there remain archaic rites. There are numerous celebrations in the month of ramaḍā’n, in which the day is silent and inert and the night full of life. The biggest holiday of the year is the end of fasting, the day when visitors are exchanged and gifts are given. Rites, sects, magic, mysticism are concentrated around the figure of the ascetic, revered and loved, served and cared for by his disciples to whom he gives his teaching in exchange. Marriage, birth and death, especially in Bali, are celebrated with solemn choral participation and underlined by songs with mimic counterpoint and dances. If the particularly dramatic ones dedicated to marriage and birth are famous, the dance that celebrates death has a dark and rarefied symbolism, entrusted at the opening to a little girl. This dance precedes the lavish cremation ceremony, in which women don their sarongs more beautiful to follow the badé, the tall and decorated funerary tower on which the body to be cremated is hoisted. The custom of burning widows, together with the badé and the deceased, has now disappeared. The Indonesian house is simple. Each family lives in their own kampong, isolated and protected from curiosity and evil spirits by a wall of beaten earth or stones. Like the temples, the house is divided into three sections. The craftsmanship is mainly aimed at weaving (batik), weaving, weapons, puppets (wayang). Among the pastimes we should mention the cockfight, the pentipak, a kind of fight that resembles judo, and the gebolg, fencing with bamboo spears. Finally, a reference to the cuisine, very similar to the Indochinese one. Rice and fruit dominate. Typical of the national gastronomy, a quality of locusts and blaciang, small fish or shrimp macerated in water and fermented in the sun.

Indonesia Culture

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