When World War II broke out in Europe and spread to the Pacific, the Japanese occupied the Dutch East Indies as of March 1942, after the surrender of the Dutch Colonial Army following the fall of Hong Kong, Manila and Singapore.
On 1 April 1945, American troops landed in Okinawa. Soon after, on August 6 and 9, the United States dropped atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A few days later, on August 14 1945, the Japanese surrendered to the Allied Forces.
That occasion opened the opportunity for the Indonesian people to proclaim their independence. Three days after the unconditional Japanese surrender, on August 17, 1945, the Indonesian national leaders Ir. Soekarno and Drs. Mohammad Hatta proclaimed Indonesia`s independence on behalf of the people.
The proclamation, which took place at 58, Jalan Pegangsaan Timur, Jakarta, was heard by thousands of Indonesians throughout the country because the text was secretly broadcasted by Indonesian radio personnel using the transmitters of the Japanese-controlled radio station, Jakarta Hoso Kyoku. An English translation of the proclamation was broadcasted overseas.
Indonesians accept Pancasila (pronounced Pancha-seela) as the National Philosophy or Ideology regardless of their religious, ethnic, belief or political backgrounds.
Pancasila is followed as the living guide to the people. Since the Independence Day of August 17, 1945, the founding fathers, Soekarno and Hatta, adopted this philosophy formally as the State’s Philosophy.
Since then Pancasila has become the sole guidance of the people in Indonesia that provides guidance for all in conducting their relationship with God, fellow human beings, and governments. Pancasila consists of five principles:
- Belief in the one and only God.
- Just and civilized humanity.
- The unity of Indonesia.
- Democracy led by wise guidance through consultation/representation.
- Social justice for all Indonesian people.
The following is a brief explanation of the five principles:
- Belief in the one and only God.
The first principle reaffirms the belief of the people to the existence of God. This principle allows the people to express their beliefs and religions in worshiping the greatness of the Supreme God.
- Just and civilized humanity.
The second principle shows the character of the people of Indonesia to respect their fellow citizen. It suggests that human relations should be based on just and civilized manners. The principle assures that the people of Indonesia refuse any kind of oppression directed to humanity.
- The unity of Indonesia.
The third principle portrays the concept and feeling of nationalism. Each person in this country is aware of various ethnicities, cultures, and beliefs that structure the country. However, these varieties bind the nation tightly and strongly. This principle reaffirms the acceptance of the concept “unity in diversity”.
- Democracy led by wise guidance through consultation/representation.
The fourth principle shows a decision making process of the nation that is based on deliberation or musyawarah to reach consensus or mufakat. The decision making process must always be exercised with a deep sense of responsibility with respect for humanitarian values of dignity and integrity.
- Social justice for all Indonesian people.
The fifth principle points out to social justice and equitable spread of welfare to all people in Indonesia. The principle holds that the use of natural resources and potentials should be for the benefit of the nation.
The 1945 Constitution
The Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia is referred to as the 1945 Constitution. The name was taken after the year in which it was drafted and adopted. The name remains although the Constitution has been amended in 1999-2002.
Initially, the Soeharto Government forbids any attempt to amend the 1945 Constitution. However, with the fall of Soeharto and the New Order regime in 1998, the 1983 Decree and 1985 Law were rescinded and the way was clear to amend the Constitution to make it more democratic. This was done in four stages at sessions of the People’s Consultative Assembly in 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002. As a result, the original Constitution has grown from 37 articles to 73.
The amendment of the Constitution provides new approaches in establishing a democratic government. The most important of the changes were:
- Limiting Presidents to two terms of office.
- Establishing a Regional Representatives Council (DPD), which, together with the House of People’s Representatives (DPR) make up an entirely elected People’s Consultative Assembly.
- Stipulating democratic, direct elections for the president, instead of the president being elected by the People’s Consultative Assembly.
- Abolishing the Supreme Advisory Council.
- Mandating direct, free and secret elections for the House of Representatives and regional legislatures.
- Establishing a Constitutional Court and a Judicial Commission.
- The addition of ten entirely new articles concerning human rights.
The Flag, the Coat of Arms, and the National Anthem
The Indonesian national flag usually called Sang Merah Putih, is made up of two colors, red and white. The flag has been flown since the Independence Day of August 17, 1945, The Indonesian government still preserves the oldest historical national flag known as bendera pusaka. Due to its physical condition, this flag was last flown on August 17, 1968.
The Coat of Arms
A golden eagle or Garuda is the Indonesian Coat of Arms. The figure was taken from the ancient epics as seen in many temples of the 6th century.
Garuda represents a symbol of strong and energetic nation. The color gold suggests the greatness of the nation and the black is the nature. The Garuda is portrayed with 17 feathers on each wing, 8 on the tail and 45 on the neck. These feathers stand for the Indonesian Independence Day of August 17, 1945.
Garuda carried an ancient Javanese motto of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, meaning Unity in Diversity, The motto was said to be created by Empu Tantular during the Majapahit Kingdom in the 15th Century. While, five symbols of Pancasila was set on Garuda’s chest.
The National Anthem
The national anthem is Indonesia Raya or the Greatest Indonesia. Wage Rudolf Supratman composed the song and introduced it to the public for the first time during the Second Indonesia Youth Congress, October 28, 1928 in Batavia (now Jakarta). Since then, the song became popular and stayed in the heart of the nation. This is because the song inspired the people to build national consciousness and to call for unity of the people. It is the aspiration of the nation.
The Indonesian Presidents
The Indonesian President and Vice-President, in pair, are elected through the Presidential Elections every five years. They govern for a five-year term and can be re-elected for a second term. The term of the President and Vice-President is limited to two terms only.
Since its independence on August 17, 1945, Indonesia has been led by six presidents; Soekarno (1945-1968); Soeharto (1968-1997); B.J. Habibie (1997-1999); Abdurrahman Wahid (1999-2001); Megawati Soekarnoputri (2001-2004); Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (2004-2014). The incumbent President is Ir. Joko Widodo (2014- present) who was installed on 20 October 2014 together with his Vice President, M.Jusuf Kalla.
Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world with a total number of 17,508 islands according to the Indonesian Naval Hydro-Oceanographic office. The archipelago is on a crossroads between two oceans, the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, and bridges two continents, Asia and Australia.
This strategic position has always influenced the cultural, social, political and economic life of the country. The territory of the Republic of Indonesia stretches from 6008’ North latitude to 11015’ South latitude and from 94045’ to 141005’ East longitude.
The Indonesian Sea area is four times greater than its land area, which is about 1.9 million sq. km. The sea area is about 7.9 million sq. km (including an exclusive economic zone) and constitutes about 81% of the total area of the country. The five main islands are: Sumatra, which is about 473,606 sq km in size, the most fertile and densely populated islands; Java / Madura, 132.107 sq km; Kalimantan, which comprises two-thirds of the island of Borneo and measures 539.460 sq km; Sulawesi, 189.216 sq km; and Papua, 421,981 sq km which is part of the world’s second largest island: New Guinea. Indonesia’s other islands are smaller in size.
The archipelago is divided into three groups. The islands of Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan, and the small islands in-between, lie on the Sunda Shelf which begins on the coasts of Malaysia and Indo China, where the sea depth does not exceed 700 feet. Papua which is part of the island of New Guinea, and the Aru Islands, lie on the Sahul Shelf, which stretches northwards from the Australian coast.
Here the sea depth is similar to that of the Sunda Shelf. Located between these two shelves is the island group of Nusa Tenggara, Maluku and Sulawesi, where the sea depth reaches 15,000 feet. Coastal plains have been developed around the islands of Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan and Papua. The land area is generally covered by thick tropical rain forests, where fertile soils are continuously replenished by volcanic eruptions like those on the island of Java.
Climate and Weather
Indonesia is a tropical country, and the climate is fairly even all year round. The climate and weather of Indonesia is characterized by two tropical seasons, which vary with the equatorial air circulation (the Walker circulation) and the meridian air circulation (the Hardley circulation).
The displacement of the latter follows the north-south movement of the sun and its relative position from the earth, in particular from the continents of Asia and Australia, at certain periods of the year. These factors contribute to the displacement and intensity of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) which is an equatorial trough of low pressure that produces rain. Thus, the west and east monsoons, or the rainy and dry seasons, are a prevalent feature of the tropical climate.
The Main Seasons
The seasons in Indonesia are roughly divided into two distinct seasons, ‘wet’ and ‘dry’. The climate changes every six months. The dry season (June to September) is influenced by the Australian continental air masses; while the rainy season (December to March) is the result of the Asian and Pacific Ocean air masses. The air contains vapor which precipitates and produces rain in the country.
Tropical areas have rains almost the whole year through. The heaviest rainfalls are usually recorded in December and January. However, the climate of Central Maluku is an exception. The rainy season is from June to September and the dry season from December to March. The transitional periods between the two seasons are April to May and October to November. The transitional period between these two seasons alternates between gorgeous sun-filled days and occasional thunderstorms.
Temperature and Humidity
Due to the large number of islands and mountains in the country, average temperatures may be classified as follows:
coastal plains: 28°C, inland and mountain areas: 26°C
higher mountain areas: 23°C, varying with the altitude.
Being in a tropical zone, Indonesia has an average relative humidity between 70% and 90%, with a minimum of 73% and a maximum of 87%.
Indonesia contains one of the world’s most remarkable geographical boundaries in its distribution of animals. This dates back to the glacial period when sea level fell all over the world. During this period the islands of Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan and Bali on the Sunda Shelf were joined together with one another and with the Asian mainland, but Papua, Aru and the Australian continent of the Sahul Shelf were separated.
This early geographical separation explains why the tropical animal species of Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan do not exist in Papua. For the same reason, the kangaroo of Papua is missing in the other regions. Maluku, Sulawesi and the Lesser Sunda Islands, which lie between the Sunda and Sahul shelves, have a strikingly different fauna. Most of the eastern faunas do not exist in Sulawesi even though this island is close to Kalimantan, being just across the Makassar Strait. Similarly, the animal species of Papua are not found on Seram and Halmahera, Papua’s closest neighbours. One possible reason for this is that Kalimantan and Sulawesi might have been separated by a deep strait at one point, while the great depth of the Banda Sea kept them apart during the glacial period.
Some scientists have attributed the phenomenon to three faunal lines. Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) wrote in his book, “The Malay Archipelago,” that Nusantara was separated into an Oriental ecological area (west side) and an Australian ecological area (east side) by a Wallace Line that runs from South to North, passing the Lombok and Makassar Straits and ending in the south eastern part of the Philippines. The Weber line which passes the sea between Maluku and Sulawesi, and the Lydekker line which starts at the edge of the Sahul Shelf. Sulawesi Island is in a transition zone known as the Wallace Area.
The other two faunal lines are the Weber Line, which passes the sea between Maluku and Sulawesi, and the Lydekker Line, which starts at the Sahul Shelf and skirts the western border of Papua and the Australian continent.
Other scientists, however, prefer to call the area a “subtraction transition zone”. The Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation adopted a national strategy on natural conservation whereby the entire ecosystem is conserved. This is necessary because it is often impossible to preserve wildlife outside its natural habitat. For example, the orangutan, which literally means “jungleman” (Pongo pygmaeus) and only lives in the jungles of Sumatra and Kalimantan, is very dependent on a primary forest habitat. For this purpose, the Directorate General, in cooperation with the World Wide Fund for Nature (W.W.F.), established “orangutan rehabilitation centers” to prepare illegally-captured orangutans to return to life in the wilderness.
The Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), the world’s largest lizard, can grow to 3 meters long. Its home is on the Komodo group of reserves, which are composed of Komodo, Padar and Rinca islands, off the coast of Flores in the eastern part of the country.
Papua and Maluku are rich in colorful birds, varying from the big and unable-to-fly cassowaries (Casuarius) and the brilliantly-plumaged birds of paradise that belong to the family of Paradiseidae and Ptilinorhynhidae and number more than 40 species, to a large variety of birds from the parrot family. Other members of Indonesia’s fauna include the hornbill bird, or “rangkong/enggang” of the Bucerotidal family, which is noted for its enormous horn-tipped beak.
The rich flora of Indonesia includes many unique varieties of tropical plant life in various forms. Rafflesia Arnoldi, which is found only in certain parts of Sumatra, is the largest flower in the world.
This parasitic plant grows on certain lianas but does not produce leaves. From the same area in Sumatra comes another giant, Amorphophallus tatinum, the largest inflorescence of its kind. The insect trapping pitcher plant (Nepenthea spp) is represented by different species in many areas of western Indonesia. The myriad of orchids is rich in species, varying in size from the largest of all orchids, the tiger orchid or Grammatophyllum Speciosum, to the tiny and leafless species of Taeniophyllum which is edible and taken by the local people as a medicine and is also used in handicrafts.
The forest soil is rich in humus which enables the luxuriant growth of a multitude of fungi, including the horse hair blight, the luminescent species, the sooty mold and the black mildew. Indonesia’s flora also abounds in timber species. The dipterocarp family is renowned for its timber (meranti), resin, vegetable oil and tengkawang or illipe nuts. Ramin, a good-quality timber for furniture, is produced by the Gonystylus tree. Sandalwood, ebony, ulin and Palembang timber are other valuable forest products. Teakwood is a product of man-made forests in Java. Because the flora is so rich many people in Indonesia have made a good living of this natural resource. About 6,000 species of plants are known to be used directly or indirectly by the people. A striking example in this modern time is the use of plants in the production of traditional herbal medicine or “Jamu”. Flowers are indispensable in ceremonial, customary and traditional rites.
To care for animals and plants in the country, the fifth of November was designated as the national Flora and Fauna Day. To foster the society’s love for its fauna and flora, the Komodo reptile (Varanus komodoensis) has been designated as Indonesia’s National Animal, the red freshwater Liluk/arwana (Scleropage formosus) as the Fascinating Animal and the flying Elang Jawa (Javan Hawk Eagle, Spizaetus barteisi) as the rare (endangered) species. These decisions complement the previous designation of Indonesia’s national flowers.
The strategic position of Indonesia and its waterways between the Indian and Pacific Oceans has led to a fascinating and complex cultural, religious, political and economic history. Evidence of Indonesia’s earliest inhabitants include fossils of “Java Man” (Pithecanthropus Erectus), which date back some 500,000 years, discovered near the village of Trinil in East Java by Dr. Eugene Dubois in 1809.
Major migration movements to the Indonesian archipelago began about 3000 years ago as the Dongson Culture of Vietnam and southern China spread south, bringing with them new Stone, Bronze and Iron Age cultures as well as the Austronesian language. Their techniques of irrigated rice cultivation are still practiced throughout Indonesia today. Other remnants of this culture such as ritual buffalo sacrifice, erection of stone megaliths and lkat weaving are still visible in isolated areas across the archipelago.
Indonesia came under the influence of a mighty Indian civilization through the gradual Influx of Indian traders in the first century AD, when great Hindu and Buddhist empires were beginning to emerge. By the seventh century, the powerful Buddhist Kingdom of Sriwijaya was on the rise, and it is thought that during this period the spectacular Borobudur Buddhist temple was built in Central Java. The thirteenth century saw the dominance of the fabulous Majapahit Hindu Empire in East Java, which united the whole of modern-day Indonesia and parts of the Malay peninsula, ruling for two centuries.
Monuments across Java such as the magnificent Prambanan temple complex near Yogyakarta, the mysterious Penataran temple complex in East Java and the ethereal temples of the Dieng Plateau are all that remain of this glorious period in Indonesia’s history.The first recorded attempt at armed invasion of Indonesia is credited to the notorious Mongol Emperor Kubilai Khan, who was driven back in 1293. Arab traders and merchants laid the foundations for the gradual spread of Islam to the region, which did not replace Hinduism and Buddhism as the dominant religion until the end of the 16th century.
A series of small Moslem kingdoms sprouted up and spread their roots, but none anticipated the strength and persistence of European invasions which followed. In 1292, Marco Polo became one of the first Europeans to set foot on the Islands, but it wasn’t until much later that the Portuguese arrived in pursuit of spices. By 1509, the Portuguese had established trading posts in the strategic commercial center of Malacca on the Malay Peninsula. Their fortified bases and the inability of their enemies to unify against them allowed the Portuguese to control strategic trade routes from Malacca to Macau, Goa, Mozambique and Angola.
Inspired by the success of the Portuguese, the Dutch followed at the turn of the 16th century. They ousted the Portuguese from some of the easternmost islands, coming into conflict with another major European power, Spain, which had focused its colonial interests in Manila. The Dutch expanded their control of the entire area throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Dutch East Indies, as it was known at this time, fell under British rule for a short period during the Napoleonic Wars of 1811-1816, when Holland was occupied by France, and Dutch power overseas was limited. While under British control, the Lt. Governor for Java and its dependencies was Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, known for his liberal attitude towards the people under colonial rule and his research on the history of Java. With the return of the Dutch in 1816, a period of relative peace was interrupted by a series of long and bloody wars launched by the local people against the Dutch colonial government.
The Indonesian nationalist and independence movements of the 20th century have their roots in this period. Upper and middle class Indonesians, whose education and contact with Western culture had made them more aware of colonial injustice, began mass movements which eventually drew support from the peasants and urban working classes. The Japanese replaced the Dutch as rulers of Indonesia for a brief period during World War II. The surrender of the Japanese in 1945 signaled the end of the Second World War in Asia and the start of true independence for Indonesia. With major changes in global consciousness about the concepts of freedom and democracy, Indonesia proclaimed its independence on the 17th of August of that same year.
The returning Dutch bitterly resisted Indonesian nationalist movements and intermittent fighting followed. Although two agreements had been reached between Indonesia and the Netherlands in 1947 (Linggarjati Agreement) and 1948 (Renville Agreement), a precarious truce remained ongoing throughout this critical period. It was Ambassador McNaughton’s incredible ability to maneuver through diplomatic deadlocks, along with his brilliant leadership that would bring resolutions 40 and 41 of February 1948 to the forefront, resolutions that would call for a ceasefire to the armed conflict in Indonesian territory. On his second and third term as President of the UN (United Nations) Security Council, and with the outbreak of serious, renewed conflict, McNaughton’s persistence and determination was behind the issuance of Security Council resolutions 63, 64, 65/1948 and 67/1949, which recognized the urgent need to bring both sides back to the negotiating table and called upon the Netherlands to cease its attacks on Indonesian territories.
In fact, the ‘Canadian Proposal’ became the basis of the resolution of the Indonesia-Netherlands conflict. And its architect, General Andrew McNaughton began to map out the road to peace. The Soviets vetoed the move, however, but McNaughton argued that the veto bore no merit since the Council had earlier approved the basic elements of a peace plan. The UN Security Council then went on to adopt his proposal in resolution no. 67/January 1949, which endorsed the establishment of a Tripartite Commission to hold negotiations with Indonesia and the Netherlands. These negotiations would lead to the international recognition of Indonesia’s sovereignty in December of the same year.
Under the auspices of the United Nations at the Hague, an agreement was finally reached on December 9, 1949, officially recognizing Indonesia’s sovereignty over the former Dutch East Indies.
The staple food of most of Indonesia is rice. On some of the islands in eastern Indonesia, staple foods traditionally range from corn, sago, cassava to sweet potatoes, though this is changing as rice becomes more popular. Fish features prominently in the diet: fresh, salted, dried, smoked or paste. Seafood is abundant and of great variety: lobster, oyster, prawns, shrimp, squid, crab, etc.
Coconut is found everywhere and besides being processed for cooking oil, its milk and meat is an ingredient for many dishes. Spices and hot chili peppers are the essence of most cooking, and in some areas they are used generously, such as in West Sumatra and North Sulawesi. Each province or area has its own cuisine. West Sumatra is known for its Padang restaurants, found nationwide. Besides the hot and spicy food, these restaurants are known for their unique style of service.
Further to the east, seafood is a staple of the daily diet, either grilled or made into curries. In Bali, Papua and the highlands of North Sumatra and North Sulawesi pork dishes are specialties.
As the population of Indonesia is predominantly Moslem, pork is usually not served except in non-halal restaurants. There is a wide variety of tropical and sub-tropical vegetables all year round. Fruit is available throughout the year. Some fruits such as mangoes and water melons are seasonal, but most of the other fruits can be bought throughout the year, such as bananas, apples, papayas, pineapples and oranges. Coffee and tea are served everywhere from fine restaurants to small village stalls. There are several breweries which produce local beer. Bali produces “brem” which is a rice wine, whereas Toraja has “tuak”.
For most people, a meal consists of steamed white rice with side dishes of meat, chicken, fish and vegetables along with a glass of tea. There is such a rich variety in the Indonesian cuisine that one should sample specialties in each area. However, most common nationwide are “sate” (skewered grilled meat), “gado-gado” (vegetable salad with peanut sauce), “nasi goreng” (fried rice served anytime) and “bakmi goreng” (fried noodles).
Art and Culture
Indonesia is blessed with a rich and diverse mix of traditional cultures and art forms. The basic principles which guide life across this colorful tapestry of life-styles include the concepts of mutual assistance or “gotong royong” and communal meetings and gatherings or “musyawarah” to arrive at a consensus or “mufakat”. Derived from the traditions of agriculturally based rural life, this system is still very much in use in community life throughout the country.
Social life, as well as rites of passage, is steeped in ancient traditions and customs, or “adat” laws, which differ from area to area. “Adat” laws have a binding impact on Indonesian life and have been instrumental in maintaining equal rights for women in the community.
Religious influences on communal life vary from Island to island and village to village, depending on local history. Art forms in Indonesia are not only derived from folklore, as in many other parts of the world. Many were developed in the courts of former kingdoms, as in Bali, where they are integral elements 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.
The Performing Arts
From graceful court and temple dances to charming folk dances and boisterous play, the performing arts of Indonesia offer an astounding range of types and styles for the visitor to study or enjoy, reflecting, as they do, the soul and traditions of the various ethnic groups who perform them. Music, dance and drama are very often intertwined, as in the ludruk transvestite theatre of East Java and the lenong folk theatre of Jakarta, both known for their slapstick humour and early Shakespearean simplicity in their stage settings.
An important form of indigenous theatre is puppetry, of which the most celebrated is the wayang kulit shadow play of Java. These plays are magical and mysterious, and have often been seen as roads to the true heart and soul of Javanese culture. They are performed with leather puppets held by the puppeteer (dalang), who narrates the story of one of the famous episodes of the Mahabharata or the Ramayana. The play is performed against a white screen, while a lantern in the background casts the shadows of the characters on the screen.
Most of the audience sits in front to watch the shadow figures, but it is also possible to sit behind the screen and watch the dalang at work. A traditional performance can last from dusk till dawn, but shorter versions catering to a western sensibility are available in many cities.
The puppet theatre has many forms and employs a variety of media. In West Java, for example, the most popular form is the Wayang Golek, using carved and painted three dimensional wooden puppets. Both the Wayang Kulit and Wayang Golek take their repertoire from the classical Indian epics but in Central Java, the wooden puppet theatre traditionally revolves around stories derived from popular folk legends and the spread of Islam.
The oldest form of “shadow” play is probably the Wayang Beber, in which the dalang or puppeteer simply unrolls a scroll bearing the scenes and figures of the story while he delivers his narration, accompanied by a gamelan orchestra. A popular contemporary form of wayang theatre is the Wayang Wong, in which actors or dancers represent the characters in the story, presented on a conventional stage.
Like most of the performing arts of the Orient, dance in Indonesia is believed to have had its roots in religious worship. Even today, many dances are considered sacred or can be traced back to their early spiritual associations.
Among these are not only the temple dances of Bali, but also such seemingly profane dances, such as the Bedoyo Ketawang of Solo, performed only on such rare occasions that they are in peril of becoming lost due to the lack of young dancers able to perform them. Dance traditions today are as widely diverse as the various ethnic cultures of which they are part. Nurtured to refined perfection in the royal Javanese courts, the classical dances of Central Java are highly stylized expressions which had probably already attained their basic movements during the height of the Hindu-Javanese culture, from the 8th to the 13th century.
Those dances eventually reached the common people, who gave them a more spontaneous form of expression. In the hands of the people, these dances provided a rich source not only for popular dance dramas, but also for social dances, which often display clear erotic overtones, such as Tayuban or Ngibing. The bumbung dance of Bali evolved into the beautiful “Bumblebee Dance” and “Tamulilingan”, a creation of Bali’s late maestro, I Mario. Other popular folk dances still display strong magic associations, as in the “Kuda Lumping Horse Dance”.
Whereas rigid discipline and artistry mark the dance of Java and Bali, those of Sumatra, Maluku and most of the other islands are characterized by their gracefulness and charm, a distinction which is further accentuated by non-gamelan musical accompaniment. The old traditions of dance and drama are being preserved in the many dance schools which flourish not only in the courts, but also in the modern, government-run or supervised art academies.
For comparative study and enjoyment, the introduction of serious western art forms is also being encouraged through performances sponsored by private organizations or foreign missions, as well as by government supervised institutions such as Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) Art Center in Jakarta.
Musical traditions are as diverse as the population, but the one musical expression best known and most widely associated with the country is probably the Gamelan. A complete gamelan orchestra may consist of as many as eighty instruments, the largest part comprising of various types and sizes of metal percussion instruments.
Drums, a zither (celempung), a rebab two-stringed upright lute, a flute and often a few other instruments complete the ensemble. Although there are variations known within each, the gamelan orchestra is basically tuned to two systems, the old pentatonic slendro and the younger seventone pelog, each producing its own mood and having its own uses in the musical or theatrical repertoire. The creation of moods or “colour” is further archieved by the use of three principal modes (pathet) within each tuning system.
The most elaborate form of Gamelan is that of Central Java (Yogyakarta and Surakarta). West Java has its own gamelan ensemble, usually simpler than the Javanese, with more stress on flute, drums and the bonang family of horizontally placed kettle gongs. But the most brilliant is that of Bali, where sets of “male” and “female” megalophones produce a beautiful timbre associated with the Balinese Gamelan. In much more simple forms, the “gamelan” is also known in other islands of Indonesia, from southern Sumatra to Sulawesi and Kalimantan.
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. Angklung has been acknowledged by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage on November 16, 2010, for its principles of cooperation, mutual respect, and social harmony, which are the main values of Indonesian culture identity, especially in West Java and Banten.
The Bataks of North Sumatra are famous for their popular singing groups who today entertain visitors in many International hotels.
Performances of Javanese Gamelan can be heard every Sunday in the Keraton of Yogyakarta. The Central Museum, in Jakarta has performances of Sundanese (West Javanese) Gamelan every Sunday morning. Javanese Gamelan also accompanies the shortened wayang kulit performances given at the Wayang Museum in Jakarta every Sunday morning.
The crafts of Indonesia vary in both medium and style. As a whole, the people are artistic by nature and express themselves with canvas and paint, wood, metal, clay and stone. Indonesian artists create some of the finest wood-carvings to be found anywhere in the world. Paintings of an infinite variety, both traditional and contemporary, are to be found all over the country.
The silverwork and engravings of Yogyakarta and Sumatra, and filigree of South Sulawesi are famous throughout Indonesia. 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.
Artists in West Sumatra and Kalimantan produce hand-woven cloths with gold and silver threads, silk, and cotton of fantastically intricate design. On the islands of Sumba and Flores you can find the traditional ikat, a type of weaving with hand-dyed threads.
Indonesia is an art-collector’s and handicrafts shopper’s paradise, and you will probably end up buying an extra suitcase just to bring all your treasures home with you.
Batik is a cloth that traditionally uses a manual wax-resist dyeing technique. There are several batik centers in Java, the major ones being Yogyakarta, Surakarta, Pekalongan and Cirebon. Batik is also being produced in other regions in Indonesia such as Jambi, Palembang, Aceh, Riau, and Bali, where local designs are incorporated.
Other regions of Indonesia have their own unique patterns that normally take themes from everyday lives, incorporating patterns such as flowers, nature, animals, folklore or people. The colours of pesisir batik, from the coastal cities of northern Java, are especially vibrant, and they absorb influences from the Javanese, Arab, Chinese and Dutch culture.
In one form or another, batik has worldwide popularity. Now, not only is batik used as a material to clothe the human body, its uses also include furnishing fabrics, heavy canvas wall hangings, tablecloths and household accessories. Batik techniques are used by famous artists to create batik paintings, which grace many homes and offices.
UNESCO designated Indonesian batik as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity on October 2, 2009. As part of the acknowledgment, UNESCO insisted that Indonesia preserve their heritage.