Indonesia, a Southeast Asian nation made up of thousands of volcanic islands, is home to hundreds of ethnic groups speaking many different languages. It’s is known for its beaches, volcanoes and jungles sheltering elephants, tigers and Komodo dragons. On the island of Java lies Indonesia's vibrant, sprawling capital, Jakarta, and the city of Yogyakarta, known for gamelan music and traditional puppetry.
The Dutch began to colonize Indonesia in the early 17th century; the islands were occupied by Japan from 1942 to 1945. Indonesia declared its independence after Japan’s surrender, but it required four years before the Netherlands agreed to relinquish its colony.
Fossilized remains of Homo erectus, popularly known as the “Java Man”, suggest the Indonesian archipelago was inhabited two million to 500,000 years ago.
Austronesian peoplearrived in Indonesia around 2000 BCE, and confined the native Melanesian peoples to the far eastern regions as they expanded.
Ideal agricultural conditions, and the mastering of rice cultivation allowed villages, towns, and small kingdoms to flourish by the first century CE.
Indonesian strategic sea-lane position fostered inter-island and international trade. For example, trade links with both Indian kingdoms and China were established several centuries BCE. Trade has since fundamentally shaped Indonesian history.
From the seventh century CE, the powerful Srivijaya naval kingdom flourished as a result of trade and the influences of Hinduism and Buddhism .
Between the eighth and 10th centuries CE, the agricultural Buddhist Sailendra and Hindu Mataram dynasties thrived and declined in inland Java, leaving grand religious monuments such as Borobudur and Prambanan.
Majapahit kingdom was founded in eastern Java in the late 13th century. Under Gajah Mada, its influence stretched over much of Indonesia. This period is often referred to as a “Golden Age” in Indonesian history.
One nation, one country, and one language
As one of the world’s most diverse countries, diversity is a central feature of Indonesian culture. It has 300 ethnic groups; 750 languages and dialects, with several local languages having their own scripts; and numerous religions, as a result of the country’s unique history and geography. The importance of diversity is embedded in the nation’s motto: Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (“Unity in diversity”). Even though Indonesians refer to themselves by their ethnic group and speak many local languages, they are united as a nation by Bahasa Indonesia, the official language of the country.
Ninety-five percent of over 300 ethnic groups in Indonesia are of native Indonesian ancestry. The ethnic groups in Indonesia, in order of size, are as follows: Javanese, which makes up nearly 42% of the total population; Sundanese, 31%; Malay, 3.7%; Maduranese, 3.3%, and others, 26%. The Javanese live mostly in Java Island, but due to government transmigration programs, millions have migrated to other islands throughout the archipelago. There are also ethnic Chinese populations, which make up 1% of the total population. Indians and Arabs live mostly in urban areas.
Bahasa Indonesia is the official language of Indonesia. It was the Malay language mainly spoken in the Riau islands and was later influenced by the local languages, cultures, and foreign languages that came with trade and other religions that were brought to the country. Bahasa Indonesia developed into a language independent of its roots, the Malay language. Even though Bahasa Indonesia has become the lingua franca, the local languages and dialects are still spoken by many Indonesians. To preserve the local cultures and languages, the Indonesian government, through its Ministry of Education, established policies for the local government to teach subjects relevant to the local cultures.
Although the country is predominantly Muslim, the government officially recognizes six religions. Islam is the country’s dominant religion, and most Muslims practice Sunni Islam of the Shafi’i school. Muslims make up about 88% of the Indonesian population; Christian Protestants and Roman Catholics make up roughly 10%; and Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucians make up 2%.
Indonesia is a collectivist society that puts greater importance on the group rather than on individuals. This is the society’s way of life, and it is manifested in the form of mutual assistance (“gotong royong”) and consultations (“musyawarah”), which occur before arriving at a consensus (“mufakat”). The collectivist culture is also evident in the people’s long-term commitment to their family and extended family. The members of society form strong relationships in which everyone takes responsibility for the members of their group or clan. Indonesia does not have social security systems or welfare systems for every citizen; nevertheless, its collectivist culture ensures that citizens take care of one another when needed.
Indonesian cuisine is one of the most vibrant and colourful cuisines in the world, full of intense flavour. It is diverse, in part because Indonesia is composed of approximately 6,000 populated islands of the total 18,000 in the world's largest archipelago, with more than 300 ethnic groups calling Indonesia their home. Many regional cuisines exist, often based upon indigenous culture and foreign influences. Indonesia has around 5,350 traditional recipes, with 30 of them considered the most important. Indonesia cuisine may include rice, noodle and soup dishes in warungs (local diners) to street-side snacks and top-dollar plates.
Indonesian cuisine varies greatly by region and has many different influences. Sumatran cuisine, for example, often has Middle Eastern and Indian influences, featuring curried meat and vegetables such as gulai and kari, while Javanese cuisine is mostly indigenous, with some hint of Chinese influence. The cuisines of Eastern Indonesia are similar to Polynesian and Melanesian cuisine. Elements of Chinese cuisine can be seen in Indonesian cuisine: foods such as bakmi (noodles), bakso (meat or fish balls), and lumpia (spring rolls) have been completely assimilated.
Throughout its history, Indonesia has been involved in trade due to its location and natural resources. Additionally, Indonesia’s indigenous techniques and ingredients were influenced by India, the Middle East, China, and finally Europe. Spanish and Portuguese traders brought New World produce even before the Dutch came to colonise most of the archipelago. The Indonesian islands The Moluccas (Maluku), which are famed as "the Spice Islands", also contributed to the introduction of native spices, such as cloves and nutmeg, to Indonesian and global cuisine.
Indonesian cuisine often demonstrates complex flavour, acquired from certain ingredients and bumbu spices mixture. Indonesian dishes have rich flavours; most often described as gurih (savory which equate to umami) and pedas (hot and spicy), and also combination of basic tastes such as manis (sweet), asin (salty), asam (sour) and pahit (bitter). Seven main Indonesian cooking methods are goreng (frying), bakar (roasting) or panggang (grilling), tumis (sautéing), sangrai (roasted), rebus (boiling) and kukus (steaming).
Some popular Indonesian dishes such as nasi goreng, gado-gado, sate, and soto are ubiquitous in the country and considered as national dishes. The official national dish of Indonesia however, is tumpeng, chosen in 2014 by Indonesian Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy as the dish that binds the diversity of Indonesia's various culinary traditions