The People and Culture of Indonesia

The People and Culture of Indonesia
Indonesia is a collection of different cultures and ethnicities that have coexisted for centuries and in many cases fused to form whole new ones.

Pop quiz: What do you know about Indonesia? Unless you live in that part of the world, probably not a whole lot. Which is fair – from my medical translation work and communications I can tell you that the people of Indonesia don’t concern themselves much about faraway places like London or Vancouver, either. All’s fair in geography and linguistics, after all.

Still, there is no more noble pursuit in this world than knowledge, especially knowledge that will increase our mutual understanding and brotherhood with other human beings. So let’s all take a few moments – moments only – to explore a tiny bit of the Indonesian culture and the people who created it and perpetuate it today.

Objects on Your Map May be Larger Than They Appear

Indonesia has a huge population, did you know that? About 250 million people live there, compared with about 300 million in the United States. About 88% of the country is Muslim, which makes Indonesia the largest Muslim population in the world, another fact that very few people seem aware of.

This population may share one dominant religion, but from an ethnic standpoint they are quite diverse. 45% of the population are Javanese, 14% are Sudanese, 7.5% are Madurese, and 26% are made up of other ethnicities. And yes, this kind of diversity brings with it a rich and complicated linguistic tableau that attracts my document translation instincts, because there are no less than 583 languages and distinct dialects spoken in Indonesia.

Unifying Factors

Despite this linguistic muddle, there is in fact an official language in Indonesia: Bahasa Indonesia, a language very close to and completely mutually comprehensible with Malay. It’s written in the Latin script. However, if you travel to Indonesia you’ll find that everything is written in English as well. In the big cities, the remnants of colonisation remain, because many folks still speak Dutch. As time goes on French is cropping up more and more in restaurants and hotels, as well. So it’s a real language soup over there!

Indonesia is very much a large collection of separate cultures melded into one, and this makes a visit there very exciting and fascinating. You can literally skip from one cultural event to the next just by walking down a street. Best of all, Indonesians are very tolerant and pleased about this diversity and celebrate their differences. In fact, it’s often said that the key to Indonesian culture is fusion, because the lengthy interaction of different cultures, ethnicities, and religions has resulted in several new version made by fusing two or more. One example is the Abangan religion you find in Java – a fusion of Islamic and Hinduistic beliefs into a wholly distinct belief system.

The Indonesian people are so used to differences it’s actually one of the friendlier places you’ll visit. If this has piqued your interest, I encourage you to take the plunge and explore this amazing quilt of humanity yourself!

Image courtesy eng.justholiday.com