Culture and Traditions of Indonesia

Culture of Indonesia

If you're planning a trip to Indonesia, you might want to know a little bit about it's culture and traditions before you arrive. Indonesia's diversity of people has created a fusion of traditions over the centuries, offering travelers a rich cultural experience.

There is a mix of cultures in this part of the world. Indonesians have been influenced by and have blended with people from various parts of the world since long before the Dutch settlements of the 16th century. At least 300 assorted languages and dialects are spoken here all across its archipelago, most Malaysian and Polynesian influences. But nearly all people also speak Indonesian, the national language known as Bahasa Indonesia.

Indonesia has been blessed with a history of explorers, migrants and traders through centuries from China, India, the Middle East and Europe. That history has culminated in its present day cultural traditions.

Indonesian Music

Indonesia's traditional music is centuries in the making. It's a blend of styles greatly influenced by other ethnic groups who made their way into these exotic lands. One popular music type is known as "gamelan." This music involves some traditional instruments as well as gongs, plucked strings, xylophones, flutes made of bamboo, metallphones and drums. Gamelan has been preserved as traditional Indonesian music.

Pop and folk music are popular hear as well, as is rock, hip-hop and other genre music. But a law passed in 1965 forbids contemporary music with a Western influence or flair. Indonesia is a predominately Muslim country, and the laws follow those beliefs and customs for the most part.

Architecture of Indonesia

Indian architecture has been the primary influence in building in Indonesia. A prime example is the Hindu temple of Prambanan in Java. It is the largest of it's kind in Java.

Many of the private homes are build on stilts. The houses may be post and beam constructions with deeply pitched roofs, very traditional to this part of the world. But visitors will also find colonial homes influenced by western tastes. Interesting architecture in private homes can be found on Borneo, Sumatra and Sulawesi.

Indonesian Sculptures

Indonesian art and sculpture dates back to the Bronze Age and the sculpting continues to be practiced here. The ancient temples of Indonesia, show stunning examples of this art dating as far back as the 8th century. Temple building spread across the archipelago and the sculptors were kept very busy embellishing them with symbolic carvings. Borobodur in central Java offers a fine example of sculptures depicting the life of Buddha as well as his teachings. Visitors interested in Indonesian art may be interested in this site.

Sport in Indonesia

Indonesians love their sports. The appreciate western sports as much as their traditional sports and games. Cock-fighting has long been a traditional sport in Indonesia and not for the faint-of-heart. This is Indonesian tradition and simply don't go if you're against it. They also have bull races in Madura, and stone jumping in common in Nias. Expect to see more western contemporary sports as well, like soccer, rugby, polo and badminton. They have organized teams for basketball and futsal (football). Every four years they hold the "Pekan Olahraga Nasional." Sports are important to Indonesia and they take it very seriously.

Traditional Indonesia

Learn the basic rules of politeness and manners before arriving. Indonesians are very polite and welcoming and they will forgive the occasional faux pas. But every country in the world has different rules of etiquette and it's better to know those differences than not to know them. It shows respect for the culture, as well as it's environment and its people.

"Saving face" is important to Indonesians, so they remain polite and seldom lose patience or show annoyance with visitors or with anyone else. That same respect is expected in return.

Greet Indonesian by shaking their hands, usually a light touching, nothing to vigorous. The handshake is often followed with a hand brought to you chest and a slight bow. The bow is simply a bend to the upper body. This is traditional to most Asian and South East Asian countries, so it's good to know when traveling throughout this region. Keep in mind, however, that this is a predominately Muslim country, so never shake a Muslim woman's hand without her offering her hand to you.

When entering a private home, follow your host's lead and remove your shoes before stepping into the house. Never show the heels of your feet to someone. In other words, don't rest your feet on the coffee table of foot stool if someone is facing you. This is considered very rude. When dining, never clean the plate or empty the cup. Give your host the opportunity to offer more. Don't make them feel they haven't done enough for their guests.

Indonesians are reserved and well-mannered. The rules of etiquette aren't that much different from western countries, but they just take it more seriously as a sign of respect and it's important to them.