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Indonesia: Travel Hightlights

World  (tags: indonesia, people, places, travel )

- 1558 days ago -
A rich culture and a idyllic landscape often comes to mind when someone thinks about Indonesia.

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Kit B (276)
Sunday March 16, 2014, 11:22 am
Map Credit: Lonely Planet

A rich culture and a idyllic landscape often comes to mind when someone thinks about Indonesia. Yet this vibrant country has many interesting facts that are not really all that well known that the potential visitor might find useful to know. Above all, they can help break some unflattering stereotypes of this diverse and unforgettable land.

---5 Facts You Might Not Know

1) Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world. Even though the Hindu dancers of Bali may be the most internationally recognized aspect of Indonesian culture, over 80% of the population has been of the Sunni Muslim faith since the late middle ages, when Arab traders brought their faith with them. Perhaps because the faith was brought there peacefully, Indonesia's brand of Islam is very tolerant and people of all faiths co exist there with little friction.

2) Indonesia has more Facebook users (Over 40 million) than any country on earth except for the United States,. This one was a surprise. For a country better known for a relative lack of technological sophistication when compared to the nearby 'tiger' economies of Taiwan and Singapore, the Indonesian youth have taken a great liking to Facebook. This is useful if a visitor wants to keep track of acquaintances made during a visit there, although we would ask that you exercise caution over any social network before you get to know them in person!

3) It is the largest island nation on Earth. With maritime boundaries exceeding the length of the continental United States, it is commonly known that Indonesia sports a lot of Islands. The exact number is an astounding 6,000 inhabited islands. Add the uninhabited ones, and there are over 18,000 islands in the whole archipelago.

4) Indonesia is a leader in natural biodiversity. While some readers may be familiar with some exotic species such as the Komodo dragon or the highland orangutan, very few laypeople know that Indonesia ranks second only to Brazil in estimated biodiversity. The internal rain forests of Sumatra and Borneo still contain may unclassified species awaiting discovery.

5) Badminton is the national sports obsession. While football is very popular, (just witness all 100,000 fans chanting the 'Garuda' song when the national team plays!) badminton matches are religiously followed and the top players are major celebrities.



The Republic of Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous nation, has 203 million people living on nearly one thousand permanently settled islands. Some two-to-three hundred ethnic groups with their own languages and dialects range in population from the Javanese (about 70 million) and Sundanese (about 30 million) on Java, to peoples numbering in the thousands on remote islands. The nature of Indonesian national culture is somewhat analogous to that of India—multicultural, rooted in older societies and interethnic relations, and developed in twentieth century nationalist struggles against a European imperialism that nonetheless forged that nation and many of its institutions. The national culture is most easily observed in cities but aspects of it now reach into the countryside as well. Indonesia's borders are those of the Netherlands East Indies, which was fully formed at the beginning of the twentieth century, though Dutch imperialism began early in the seventeenth century. Indonesian culture has historical roots, institutions, customs, values, and beliefs that many of its people share, but it is also a work in progress that is undergoing particular stresses at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

The name Indonesia, meaning Indian Islands, was coined by an Englishman, J. R. Logan, in Malaya in 1850. Derived from the Greek, Indos (India) and nesos (island), it has parallels in Melanesia, "black islands"; Micronesia, "small islands"; and Polynesia, "many islands." A German geographer, Adolf Bastian, used it in the title of his book, Indonesien , in 1884, and in 1928 nationalists adopted it as the name of their hoped-for nation.

Most islands are multiethnic, with large and small groups forming geographical enclaves.

Location and Geography.

Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago nation, is located astride the equator in the humid tropics and extends some 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers) east-west, about the same as the contiguous United States. It is surrounded by oceans, seas, and straits except where it shares an island border with East Malaysia and Brunei on Borneo (Kalimantan); with Papua New Guinea on New Guinea; and with Timor Loro Sae on Timor. West Malaysia lies across the Straits of Malaka, the Philippines lies to the northeast, and Australia lies to the south.

Linguistic Affiliation.

Nearly all of Indonesia's three hundred to four hundred languages are subgroups of the Austronesian family that extends from Malaysia through the Philippines, north to several hill peoples of Vietnam and Taiwan, and to Polynesia, including Hawaiian and Maori (of New Zealand) peoples. Indonesia's languages are not mutually intelligible, though some subgroups are more similar than others (as Europe's Romance languages are closer to each other than to Germanic ones, though both are of the Indo-European family). Some language subgroups have sub-subgroups, also not mutually intelligible, and many have local dialects. Two languages—one in north Halmahera, one in West Timor—are non-Austronesian and, like Basque in Europe, are not related to other known languages. Also, the very numerous languages of Papua are non-Austronesian.

Emergence of the Nation.
Though the Republic of Indonesia is only fifty years old, Indonesian societies have a long history during which local and wider cultures were formed.

About 200 C.E. , small states that were deeply influenced by Indian civilization began to develop in Southeast Asia, primarily at estuaries of major rivers. The next five hundred to one thousand years saw great states arise with magnificent architecture. Hinduism and Buddhism, writing systems, notions of divine kingship, and legal systems from India were adapted to local scenes. Sanskrit terms entered many of the languages of Indonesia. Hinduism influenced cultures throughout Southeast Asia, but only one people are Hindu, the Balinese.

Indianized states declined about 1400 C.E. with the arrival of Muslim traders and teachers from India, Yemen, and Persia, and then Europeans from Portugal, Spain, Holland, and Britain. All came to join the great trade with India and China. Over the next two centuries local princedoms traded, allied, and fought with Europeans, and the Dutch East India Company became a small state engaging in local battles and alliances to secure trade. The Dutch East India Company was powerful until 1799 when the company went bankrupt. In the nineteenth century the Dutch formed the Netherlands Indies government, which developed alliances with rulers in the archipelago. Only at the beginning of the twentieth century did the Netherlands Indies government extend its authority by military means to all of present Indonesia.

Sporadic nineteenth century revolts against Dutch practices occurred mainly in Java, but it was in the early twentieth century that Indonesian intellectual and religious leaders began to seek national independence. In 1942 the Japanese occupied the Indies, defeating the colonial army and imprisoning the Dutch under harsh conditions.

On 17 August 1945, following Japan's defeat in World War II, Indonesian nationalists led by Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta declared Indonesian independence. The Dutch did not accept and for five years fought the new republic, mainly in Java. Indonesian independence was established in 1950.

National Identity.
Indonesia's size and ethnic diversity has made national identity problematic and debated. Identity is defined at many levels: by Indonesian citizenship; by recognition of the flag, national anthem, and certain other songs; by recognition of national holidays; and by education about Indonesia's history and the Five Principles on which the nation is based. Much of this is instilled through the schools and the media, both of which have been closely regulated by the government during most of the years of independence. The nation's history has been focused upon resistance to colonialism and communism by national heroes and leaders who are enshrined in street names. Glories of past civilizations are recognized, though archaeological remains are mainly of Javanese principalities.

Food in Daily Life.
Indonesian cuisine reflects regional, ethnic, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Indian, and Western influences, and daily food quality, quantity, and diversity vary greatly by socioeconomic class, season, and ecological conditions. Rice is a staple element in most regional cooking and the center of general Indonesian cuisine. (Government employees receive monthly rice rations in addition to salaries.) Side dishes of meat, fish, eggs, and vegetables and a variety of condiments and sauces using chili peppers and other spices accompany rice. The cuisine of Java and Bali has the greatest variety, while that of the Batak has much less, even in affluent homes, and is marked by more rice and fewer side dishes. And rice is not the staple everywhere: in Maluku and parts of Sulawesi it is sago, and in West Timor it is maize (corn), with rice consumed only for ceremonial occasions. Among the Rotinese, palm sugar is fundamental to the diet.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions.
The most striking ceremonial occasion is the Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan. Even less-observant Muslims fast seriously from sunup to sundown despite the tropical heat. Each night during Ramadan, fine celebratory meals are held. The month ends with Idul Fitri, a national holiday when family, friends, neighbors, and work associates visit each other's homes to share food treats (including visits by non-Muslims to Muslim homes).

In traditional ritual, special food is served to the spirits or the deceased and eaten by the participants. The ubiquitous Javanese ritual, selamatan , is marked by a meal between the celebrants and is held at all sorts of events, from life-cycle rituals to the blessing of new things entering a village. Life-cycle events, particularly marriages and funerals, are the main occasions for ceremonies in both rural and urban areas, and each has religious and secular aspects. Elaborate food service and symbolism are features of such events, but the content varies greatly in different ethnic groups. Among the Meto of Timor, for example, such events must have meat and rice ( sisi-maka' ), with men cooking the former and women the latter. Elaborate funerals involve drinking a mixture of pork fat and blood that is not part of the daily diet and that may be unappetizing to many participants who nonetheless follow tradition. At such events, Muslim guests are fed at separate kitchens and tables.

Basic Economy.
About 60 percent of the population are farmers who produce subsistence and market-oriented crops such as rice, vegetables, fruit, tea, coffee, sugar, and spices. Large plantations are devoted to oil palm, rubber, sugar, and sisel for domestic use and export, though in some areas rubber trees are owned and tapped by farmers. Common farm animals are cattle, water buffalo, horses, chickens, and, in non-Muslim areas, pigs. Both freshwater and ocean fishing are important to village and national economies. Timber and processed wood, especially in Kalimantan and Sumatra, are important for both domestic consumption and export, while oil, natural gas, tin, copper, aluminum, and gold are exploited mainly for export.

Political Life

During 2000, Indonesia was in deep governmental crisis and various institutions were being redesigned. The 1945 constitution of the republic, however, mandates six organs of the state: the People's Consultative Assembly ( Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat , or MPR), the presidency, the People's Representative Council ( Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat , or DPR), the Supreme Advisory Council ( Dewan Pertimbangan Agung ), the State Audit Board ( Badan Pemeriksa Keuangan ), and the Supreme Court ( Mahkamah Agung ).

The president is elected by the MPR, which consists of one thousand members from various walks of life—farmers to businesspeople, students to soldiers—who meet once every five years to elect the president and endorse his or her coming five-year plan. The vice president is selected by the president.

The DPR meets at least once a year and has five hundred members: four hundred are elected from the provinces, one hundred are selected by the military. The DPR legislates, but its statutes must be approved by the president. The Supreme Court can hear cases from some three hundred subordinate courts in the provinces but cannot impeach or rule on the constitutionality of acts by other branches of government.

Medicine and Health Care

Modern public health care was begun by the Dutch to safeguard plantation workers. It expanded to hospitals and midwifery centers in towns and some rural health facilities. During the New Order public health and family planning became a priority for rural areas and about seven thousand community health centers and 20,500 sub-health centers were built by 1995. In Jakarta medical faculties exist in a number of provincial universities. Training is often hampered by poor facilities, and medical research is limited as teaching physicians also maintain private practices to serve urban needs and supplement meager salaries. Physicians and government health facilities are heavily concentrated in large cities, and private hospitals are also located there, some founded by Christian missions or Muslim foundations. Many village areas in Java, and especially those in the outer islands, have little primary care beyond inoculations, maternal and baby visits, and family planning, though these have had important impacts on health conditions.

Traditional medicine is alive throughout the archipelago. Javanese curers called dukun deal with a variety of illnesses of physical, emotional, and spiritual origin through combinations of herbal and magical means. In north Sumatra, some ethnic curers specialize; for example, Karo bonesetters have many clinics. Herbal medicines and tonics called jamu are both home blended and mass produced. Commercial brands of tonics and other medicines are sold throughout the archipelago, and tonic sellers' vehicles can be seen in remote places.

Various forms of spiritual healing are done by shamans, mediums, and other curers in urban and rural areas. Many people believe that ritual or social missteps may lead to misfortune, which includes illness. Traditional healers diagnose the source and deal with the problems, some using black arts. Bugis transvestite healers serve aristocratic and commoner households in dealing with misfortune, often becoming possessed in order to communicate with the source of misfortune. In Bali, doctors trained in modern medicine may also practice spirit-oriented healing. Accusations of sorcery and attacks on alleged sorcerers are not uncommon in many areas and are most liable to arise in times of social, economic, and political unrest.

Read more:

Kit B (276)
Sunday March 16, 2014, 11:23 am

Yep, there is a lot of information but how often will you have the opportunity to learn about these different places around the world? Read some and grow. Enjoy the trip.

Pat B (356)
Sunday March 16, 2014, 11:44 am
It's interesting reading the '5 Facts You Might Not Know' , as I did not know that they are right behind the US on Facebook, or that it's the largest island nation in the world.I enjoyed viewing Jakarta, Bangka island and Bali the best, seeing the beautiful flowers, and I did enjoy the water/beach there.The tour was grand.!! Thanks, Kit for our trip.

Michela M (3964)
Sunday March 16, 2014, 2:02 pm

I liked Indonesia very much.
I went there twice, to Bali and all around the Java Island, in Jakarta, Jojakarta, etc.

Barbara K (60)
Sunday March 16, 2014, 2:42 pm
That was a beautiful vacation, my friend. Thank you, and I guess I'll just have to add it to my long wish list. lol.

Angelika R (143)
Sunday March 16, 2014, 2:53 pm
I Hope our friend Monica T will step in here..Right now quite different things come to my mind when that particular area is might guess.
Other than the lovely video- thanks Kit!- the only other thing i could mention are my foster"child" orangutang boy "Lear"at Kalimantan's(Borneo) Camp Leakey OFI Center. Sadly, I've never traveled there but at least I often get to see Indonesians in Berlin as the residence of the embassador is rather close to me.
Not sure if these islands in one of the most earth-and seaquake strucken areas would be my favorite destination.

JL A (281)
Sunday March 16, 2014, 5:27 pm
I've been reading a novel set in the post independence time period which does internal cultural and power contrasts along with religious insights where for some their first loyalty is to their community (e.g., Java vs. Indonesia) and second to religion when church leaders would do funerals in accordance with each others' traditions for whichever faith the deceased belonged to.

Vallee R (280)
Sunday March 16, 2014, 5:51 pm
well if I want to play badminton - know where to go now or meet a shaman - now that I would go for - thanks Kit - these are always wonderful travels/

Melania Padilla (122)
Monday March 17, 2014, 12:55 pm

marie C (163)
Monday March 17, 2014, 6:03 pm
Thanks Kit thoroughly enjoyed such an escape from all the sadness on C2

Colin Hope (243)
Wednesday March 19, 2014, 1:22 am
Wow, what a place.......!!

Past Member (0)
Thursday March 20, 2014, 9:01 am
Really quite beautiful---just way too much corruption+animal atrocities. Terrible place 4 animal smuggling. Thx Kit

Past Member (0)
Tuesday March 25, 2014, 7:46 pm
Nice trip..met a few people on line from there..very single minded Quasi Buddhists :) 1000 sects, Millions of them..Chinese Malaysians..never mentioned Islam :)
Well as far as terrorists go, the most vehement of them were Irish Catholic converts to Jordan, The Brotherhood...biding time. Oh those dad blamed cabbage leaves in my camel toes :)
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