INDONESIAN CULTURE; ARTS AND TRADITIONS
Indonesia is culturally rich. Indonesian art and culture are intertwined with religion and age-old traditions from the time of early migrants with Western thoughts brought by Portuguese traders and Dutch colonists. The basic principles which guide life include the concepts of mutual assistance or “gotong royong” and consultations or “musyawarah” to arrive at a consensus or “mufakat” Derived from rural life, this system is still very much in use in community life throughout the country.
Though the legal system is based on the old Dutch penal code, social life as well as the rites of passage are founded on customary or “adat” law which differs from area to area. “Adat” law has a binding impact on Indonesian life and it may be concluded that this law has been instrumental in maintaining equal rights for women in the community. Religious influences on the community are variously evident from island to island.
Intertwined with religion and age-old traditions from the time of early migrants the art and culture of Indonesia is rich in itself with Western thoughts brought by Portuguese traders and Dutch colonists. The art and culture of Indonesia has been shaped around its hundreds of ethnic groups, each with cultural differences that have shifted over the centuries. Modern-day Indonesian culture is a fusion of cultural aspects from Arabic, Chinese, Malay and European sources. Indonesian art and culture has also been influenced from the ancient trading routes between the Far East and the Middle East leading to many cultural practices being strongly influenced by a multitude of religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Islam.
The official language of Indonesia is ‘Indonesian’ or ‘Bahasa Indonesia’. It’s universally taught in schools and is spoken by nearly every Indonesian in business, politics, national media, education and academia. The Indonesians also speak several hundreds of local languages like ‘bahasa daerah’ as their first language. Javanese is also widely used besides other Papuan or Austronesian languages in a region of just 2.7 million people.
The government of Indonesia officially recognizes only six religions, viz Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Protestantism, Catholicism, and Confucianism. The largest religious group in Indonesia is Islam with almost 86% of Indonesians being Muslims. Indonesia is also the most populous Muslim-majority nation in the world.
Indonesia has created many internationally famous celebrated authors. There has also been a long tradition, particularly among ethnically Malay populations, of impromptu, interactive, verbal composition of poetry referred to as the ‘pantun’. Pramoedya Ananta Toer, a well-known author won the Magsaysay Award and was considered for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Chairil Anwar was also an important figure in the literature world and a member of the Generation 45 group of authors who were active in the Indonesian independence movement.
Home to hundreds of forms of music, it plays an important role in Indonesia’s art and culture. Traces of its origin can be made to the islands of Java, Sumatra and Bali. ‘Gamelan’ is the traditional music from Central- and East Java and Bali. Another very popular style of music is ‘Dangdut’ which is accompanied with free dance style. This style first came up in the 1970s and is quite useful in political campaigns. Other forms of music include the Keroncong with its roots in Portugal, the soft Sasando music from West Timor and Degung and Angklung from West Java, which is played with bamboo instruments.
The traditional dances depict episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata from India. Traditional Javanese and Balinese tinge is also seen in the dance forms of Indonesian art and culture. The highly stylized dances of the courts of Yogyakarta and Surakarta are some of the popular variations. Mythological events of Indonesia are also depicted.
Drama and Theatre
The Javanese and Balinese shadow puppet theatre shows ‘wayang kulit’ displaying several mythological events. A traditional folk theatre, Randai of the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra, is performed during ceremonies and festivals. Music, singing, dance, drama and the silat martial art are all incorporated together and are based on the stories of the legend.
Indonesian culture, especially its architecture has been to a great extent dominated and influenced by the Indian, although European influences have also been particularly strong since the nineteenth century. Traditional buildings in Indonesia are built on stilts with oversized saddle roofs which have been the home of the Batak and the Toraja. The Torajan use the buffalo horns, stacked one above another in front of the house as an indication of status. Scenes from the Ramayana adorn the outer walls in different colors. However, Chinese, Arab, and European architectural influences have also been quite significant in Indonesian architecture.
Indonesians distinctive cuisine has been derived from centuries with the influence of the Chinese, European, Middle Eastern and the Indians. The staple food of most Indonesian dishes is rice served with meat and vegetables. Flavors of Vietnamese and Thai food can also be got from the cuisine of Indonesia. Spices, notably chili, and coconut milk are fundamental ingredients in most of the dishes, especially fish and chicken.
The arts of Indonesia are many, especially Indonesian paintings which are unique works of art. The intricate and expressive Balinese paintings are quite famous and often express natural scenes and themes from the traditional dances. A long-standing tradition of sculpture can also be seen in the art and culture of Indonesia, some dating back to the Bronze and Iron Ages. Examples of sculpture illustrating the story of the life of Buddha can be seen in the temples of the 8th and the 10th century. Indonesia’s art and culture is also famous for their unique batik, ikat and songket cloth which is even popular today.
Unlike some countries art forms in Indonesia are not only based on folklore, as many were developed in the courts of former kingdoms such as in Bali, where they are part of religious ceremonies. The famous dance dramas of Java and Bali are derived from Hindu mythology and often feature fragments from the Ramayana and Mahabharata Hindu epics.
Highly stylized in movement and costume, dances and the “wayang” drama are accompanied by a full “gamelan” orchestra comprising xylophones, drums, gongs, and in some cases string instruments and flutes. Bamboo xylophones are used in North Sulawesi and the bamboo “angklung” instruments of West Java are well- known for their unique tinkling notes which can be adapted to any melody.
The “Wayang kulit” (leather puppets) of Java is performed with leather puppets held by the puppeteer, who narates the story of one of the famous episodes of the Hindu epics, the Mahabharata or the Ramayana. It is performed against a white screen while a lantern in the background casts the shadows of the characters on the screen, visible from the other side where the spectators are seated.
The “Wayang Golek” (wooden puppets) of West Java is based on the same concept. The crafts of Indonesia vary in both medium and art form. As a whole the people are artistic by nature and express themselves on canvas, wood, metals, clay and stone. The batik process of waxing and dyeing originated in Java centuries ago and classic designs have been modified with modern trends in both pattern and technology. There are several centres of Batik in Java, the major ones being Yogyakarta, Surakarta, Pekalongan and Cirebon.
Batik is also being produced in some other areas as in Bali where local designs are incorporated. Other provinces produce hand-woven cloths of gold and silver threads, silks or cottons with intricate designs. Painting are numerous all over the country, both traditional and contemporary, woodcarvings for ornamentation and furniture, silverwork and engraving form Yogyakarta and Sumatra, filgree from South Sulawesi and Bali with different styles of clay, sandstone and wood sculptures. These are but a few of the handicrafts found in Indonesia.