In the United States, much like in Australia, people like to describe their country as a “melting pot,” a proud reference to their history of immigration and being open to all cultures and religions. It might surprise some non translation services people (and many Americans and Australians!) to learn that they have some serious competition on that score in the country and culture of Indonesia.
Many folks assume Indonesia has a very monochromatic culture, with one people, religion, and general way of life – but Indonesia is an incredible example of a natural process of cultural diversification throughout history – which is to say that Indonesia does, in fact, have a distinct culture and identity, but it’s an identity forged from a long list of influences throughout history.
Crossroads of the World
This is all the result, really, of Indonesia being right smack at the crossroads of several ancient trade routes. This brought just about every other civilisation, first from the ancient world and later from the European and Western cultures, storming through the country on a regular basis. Not only did this result in exposure to all of these different people and their beliefs, it brought all manner of goods into the region that would otherwise remain unknown. The influence of these two factors continues to show itself in modern-day Indonesia, a country that is today defined by the concept of fusion more than anything else.
Fusion of Religions and Cultures
Indonesian culture often reflects a combination of concepts and symbols. A whole religion in Indonesia, Abangan, which is an Islamic sect whose local practices and laws incorporate many facets of the Hindu, Buddhist, and Animist religions, making it an extremely unique belief system. Much of Indonesian folklore and art also reflects this fusion of ideas and styles; Balinese Dance, for example, are often constructed around stories involving Hindu Kingdoms, Buddhists, or Islamic societies, with no clear preference for any specific example.
There are still pockets of indigenous cultures in Indonesia, where ancient ways that existed before outside influences are still maintained. Today these cultural pockets just add one more element to the amazing tableau that is Indonesian life.
Indonesian Food is perhaps a bit more coherent, because of the natural climate and agricultural factors that limit the local diet. Rice is by far the main food staple in the country. Almost everywhere in Indonesia you will find rice as the main dish, usually served highly spiced and with meat, fish, and vegetable side dishes. Rice is a huge part of Indonesian life as it is not only their main food source but also one of the country’s main economic factors.
However, even here the influence of other cultures is clear: The famous Rice Table, a form of buffet very popular in Indonesia and often associated with Indonesian cooking, is actually a European invention, brought to the country by the Dutch in the 17th Century!
Image courtesy thetravelingbird.wordpress.com