PEOPLE IN INDONESIA

PEOPLE IN INDONESIA

People in Indonesia are called Indonesians. People of Malay descent make up a large portion of the populations in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. The adjective Indonesian refers to the people of Indonesia, which is a relatively recent construct. Many people in Indonesia go by the island of their origin— Javanese, Balinese, Sumatran, Moluccan—or their ethnic group—Batak, Toraja or Sundanese. Some names like Madurese or even Javanese, refer to both an ethnic group and a people from an island.

Indonesia is the world's forth most populous nation after China, India and the United States. There are 253,609,643 people in Indonesia (estimated in 2014), about half of which live in urban areas. Two thirds of Indonesia's people live on Java, Madura and Bali which together occupy only eight percent of the land area of Indonesia. Indonesia is also the most populous Muslim nation. Only Pakistan and India approach it in terms of total number of Muslims.

Indonesia is a culturally very diverse nation. Ethnic identities are not always clear, stable (even for individuals), or agreed upon; ethnic groups may appear or profess to be more distinct socially or culturally than they actually are. But there are about 350 recognized ethnolinguistic groups in Indonesia, 180 of them located in Papua; 13 languages have more than 1 million speakers (see below). Javanese make up 45 percent of the population, Sundanese 14 percent, Madurese 7.5 percent, coastal Malays 7.5 percent, and others 26 percent. [Source: Library of Congress]

The population density of Indonesia is 131 persons per square kilometer (2009), compared with 33.8 per square kilometer in the United States. In Java, Madura, and Bali, population densities are more than 900 per square kilometer. Census authorities in 2007 estimated an average density of 118 people/ square kilometers (Departemen Kesehatan, 2008). The population density on Java and Bali (977 people per square kilometers) was much higher than on other islands (50 people per square kilometers).

Sixty percent of Indonesians live on Java and Bali, representing only 7 percent of the land area of Indonesia. Java has so many people that the population has already outstripped the availability of land and water and residents of the island are being encouraged to move to another island. As a result of an aggressive family planning campaign, the population is only growing at the rate of 0.95 percent, with a fertility rate of 2.18 percent (the fertility rate is the number of children per woman). The average life expectancy is 72 years. About 26.5 percent of all Indonesians are under 14, and 6.4 percent are over 65.

Indonesians over the years have been called “Indonesians,” Malay Islanders,” and East Indians.” Although there is great variety of ethnic groups in Indonesia today, the people of Indonesia are unified by national language, economy and religion. Some anthropologist distinguish three loosely-defined Indonesian cultures: 1) Hinduized societies that practice rice culture; 2) Islamized coastal cultures; and 3) remote tribal groups.

See Minorities.

Indonesians: A Malay People

Indonesians have traditionally been categorized as people of Malay stock. They are typically short (males average 1.5 to 1.6 meters in height) and have wavy black hair and a medium brown complexion. They are regarded as mix of southern Mongols, Proto-Malays, Polynesians, and in some areas, Arab, Indian or Chinese. The main non-Malay people are ethnic groups who live in West Papua (Irian Jaya, on New Guinea) and nearby islands. They are Melansian and related to people in Papua New Guinea and islands in the southwest Pacific Ocean. Some places such as Timor are regarded as Malay, Melanesian mix.

Malays evolved from the migration of people southward from present-day Yunnan in China and eastward from the peninsula to the Pacific islands, where Malyo-Polynesian languages still predominate.

The Malays arrived in several, continuous waves and displaced the Orang Asli (aboriginals) and pre-Islamic or proto Malay. Early Chinese and Indian travelers that visited Malaysia reported village farming metal-using settlements.

Combination of the colonial Kambujas of Hindu-Buddhism faith, the Indo-Persian royalties and traders as well as traders from southern China and elsewhere along the ancient trade routes, these peoples together with the aborigine Negrito Orang Asli and native seafarers and Proto Malays intermarried each other's and thus a new group of peoples was formed and became to be known as the Deutero Malays, today they are commonly known as the Malays.

Early Indigenous People in Malaysia

The indigenous groups on peninsular Malaysia can be divided into three ethnicities, the Negritos, the Senois, and the proto-Malays. The first inhabitants of the Malay Peninsula were most probably Negritos. These Mesolithic hunters were probably the ancestors of the Semang, an ethnic Negrito group who have a long history in the Malay Peninsula. It is likely they have traveled to Sumatra which is not so far away across the Malacca Straits. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Proto Malays have a more diverse origin, and were settled in Malaysia by 1000BC. Although they show some connections with other inhabitants in Maritime Southeast Asia, some also have an ancestry in Indochina around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum, about 20,000 years ago. Anthropologists support the notion that the Proto-Malays originated from what is today Yunnan, China. This was followed by an early-Holocene dispersal through the Malay Peninsula into the Malay Archipelago. Around 300 BC, they were pushed inland by the Deutero-Malays, an Iron Age or Bronze Age people descended partly from the Chams of Cambodia and Vietnam. The first group in the peninsula to use metal tools, the Deutero-Malays were the direct ancestors of today's Malaysian Malays, and brought with them advanced farming techniques. The Malays remained politically fragmented throughout the Malay archipelago, although a common culture and social structure was shared.

Anthropologists traced a group of newcomers Proto Malay seafarers who migrated from Yunnan to Malaysia. Negrito and other Aborigines were forced by late comers into the hills. In this period, people learned to dress, to cook, to hunt with advanced stone weapons. Communication techniques also improved.

Archaeological finds from the Lenggong valley in Perak. Dating to 10,000-5,000 years ago- Neolithic (New Stone Age), show that people were making stone tools and using jewellery. In the Bronze Age, 2,500 years ago, more people arrived, including new tribes and seafarers. The Malay Peninsula became the crossroads in maritime trades of the ancient age. Seafarers who came to Malaysia's shores included Indians, Egyptians, peoples of the Middle East, Javanese and Chinese. Ptolemy named the Malay Peninsula the Golden Chersonese.

The indigenous groups of peninsular Malaysia can be divided into three ethnicities, the Negritos, the Senois, and the proto-Malays. The first inhabitants of the Malay Peninsula were most probably Negritos— Mesolithic hunters were probably the ancestors of the Semang, an ethnic Negrito group who have a long history in the Malay Peninsula. Because peninsular Malaysia is so close to Sumatra it is not unlikely that they migrated to Sumatra and perhaps elsewhere in Indonesia. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Proto Malays have a more diverse origin, and were settled in Malaysia by 1000BC. Although they show some connections with other inhabitants in Maritime Southeast Asia, some also have an ancestry in Indochina around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum, about 20,000 years ago. Anthropologists support the notion that the Proto-Malays originated from what is today Yunnan, China. This was followed by an early-Holocene dispersal through the Malay Peninsula into the Malay Archipelago. Around 300 BC, they were pushed inland by the Deutero-Malays, an Iron Age or Bronze Age people descended partly from the Chams of Cambodia and Vietnam. The first group in the peninsula to use metal tools, the Deutero-Malays were the direct ancestors of today's Malaysian Malays, and brought with them advanced farming techniques. The Malays remained politically fragmented throughout the Malay archipelago, although a common culture and social structure was shared.

Anthropologists traced a group of newcomers Proto Malay seafarers who migrated from Yunnan to Malaysia. Negrito and other Aborigines were forced by late comers into the hills. In this period, people learned to dress, to cook, to hunt with advanced stone weapons. Communication techniques also improved.

Archaeological finds from the Lenggong valley in Perak. Dating to 10,000-5,000 years ago- Neolithic (New Stone Age), show that people were making stone tools and using jewellery. In the Bronze Age, 2,500 years ago, more people arrived, including new tribes and seafarers. The Malay Peninsula became the crossroads in maritime trades of the ancient age. Seafarers who came to Malaysia's shores included Indians, Egyptians, peoples of the Middle East, Javanese and Chinese. Ptolemy named the Malay Peninsula the Golden Chersonese.

Senoi

The Senoi are a group of slash-and-burn farmers that live in the rain-forested mountains and foothills of the Main mountains range which bisects the Malaya peninsula, primarily in northeast Pahang and southeast Perak. There are about 20,000 of them. Their language is classified as members of the Aslian Branch of the Austroasiatic group of languages. Most also speak some Malay and there are many Malay loan words in Senoi languages. Many have never traveled further than a few kilometers from the place they were born. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993)]

The Senoi are believed to have arrived o the Malaya Peninsula about 8000 to 6000 B.C., perhaps mixing with the Semang people’s who were already there. The Malays arrived millennia later. At first they traded peacefully and mixed with the Senoi but as they grew powerful they carved Malaysia into small states. The Senoi became dependants and second class citizens. When the Malays converted to Islam they labeled the Senoi as pagans and enslaved them, murdered adults and kidnaped children under the age of nine. The slave practice didn’t end until the 1930s. The policy of the Malaysian has been to “civilize” the Senoi by converting them to Islam and making them ordinary people.

The Senoi appear to be a composite group, with approximately half of the maternal DNA lineages tracing back to the ancestors of the Semang and about half to later ancestral migrations from Indochina. Scholars suggest they are descendants of early Austroasiatic-speaking agriculturalists, who brought both their language and their technology to the southern part of the peninsula approximately 4,000 years ago. They united and coalesced with the indigenous population.

See Malaysia.

Semang (Negritos)

The Semang are a Negrito group of hunter-gatherers and shifting cultivators that live in the lowland rain forests in northern Malaysia and southern Thailand. There are only about 2,000 of them and they are divided into eight groups whose numbers range from about 100 to 850. Most Semang languages are in the Mon-Khmer group or the Aslian Branch of the Austroasiatic group of languages. Most also speak some Malay and there are many Malay loan words in Semang languages. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993)]

Other Negritos groups include the Andaman Islanders, the Veddoid Negritos of Sri Lanka and the Negritos of the Philippines and the Indian Ocean islands. The resemble other dark skinned, frizzy-haired people from Africa, Melanesia and Australia. The handful of undeveloped cultures that reportedly have never waged war includes the Andaman Islanders of India, the Yahgan of Patagonia, the Semai of Malaysia and the Tasaday of the Philippines.

Negritos are of an unknown origin. Some anthologist believe they are descendants of wandering people that "formed an ancient human bridge between Africa and Australia.” Genetic evidence indicates they much more similar to the people around them than had been previously thought. This suggests that Negritos and Asians had the same ancestors but that Negritos developed feature similar to Africans independently or that Asians were much darker and developed lighter skin and Asian features, or both.

The Semang are probably descendants of the Hoabinhian rain forest foragers who inhabited the Malay Peninsula from 10,000 to 3,000 year ago. After the arrival of agriculture about 4,000 years, some became agriculturalists but enough remained hunter gatherers that they survived as such until recent times.

In the early days the Semang may have interacted and traded with the Malay settlers after the first Malays arrived but relations soured when the Malays began taking Semang as slaves. After that many Semang retired into the forests. The Semang and other similar groups became known as the Orang Asli in peninsular Malaysia. Even though they were considered "isolated" they traded rattan, wild rubbers, camphor and oils for goods from China

See Malaysia.

Proto-Malay Models

Also known as Melayu asli (aboriginal Malays) or Melayu purba (ancient Malays), the Proto-Malays are of Austronesian origin and thought to have migrated to the Malay archipelago in a long series of migrations between 2500 and 1500 BC. The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Early History, has pointed out a total of three theories of the origin of Malays: 1) The Yunnan theory, Mekong river migration (published in 1889) - The theory of Proto-Malays originating from Yunnan is supported by R.H Geldern, J.H.C Kern, J.R Foster, J.R Logen, Slamet Muljana and Asmah Haji Omar. Other evidences that support this theory include: stone tools found in Malay Archipelago are analogous to Central Asian tools, similarity of Malay customs and Assam customs. [Source: Wikipedia +]

2) The New Guinea theory (published in 1965) - The proto-Malays are believed to be seafarers knowledgeable in oceanography and possessing agricultural skills. They moved around from island to island in great distances between modern day New Zealand and Madagascar, and they served as navigation guides, crew and labour to Indian, Arab, Persian and Chinese traders for nearly 2000 years. Over the years they settled at various places and adopted various cultures and religions. +

3) The Taiwan theory (published in 1997) - The migration of a certain group of Southern Chinese occurred 6,000 years ago, some moved to Taiwan (today's Taiwanese aborigines are their descendents), then to the Philippines and later to Borneo (roughly 4,500 years ago) (today's Dayak and other groups). These ancient people also split with some heading to Sulawesi and others progressing into Java, and Sumatra, all of which now speaks languages that belongs to the Austronesian Language family. The final migration was to the Malay Peninsula roughly 3,000 years ago. A sub-group from Borneo moved to Champa in modern-day Central and South Vietnam roughly 4,500 years ago. There are also traces of the Dong Son and Hoabinhian migration from Vietnam and Cambodia. All these groups share DNA and linguistic origins traceable to the island that is today Taiwan, and the ancestors of these ancient people are traceable to southern China. +

The Deutero-Malays are Iron Age people descended partly from the subsequent Austronesian peoples who came equipped with more advanced farming techniques and new knowledge of metals. They are kindred but more Mongolised and greatly distinguished from the Proto-Malays which have shorter stature, darker skin, slightly higher frequency of wavy hair, much higher percentage of dolichocephaly and a markedly lower frequency of the epicanthic fold. The Deutero-Malay settlers were not nomadic compared to their predecessors, instead they settled and established kampungs which serve as the main units in the society. These kampungs were normally situated on the riverbanks or coastal areas and generally self-sufficient in food and other necessities. By the end of the last century BC, these kampungs beginning to engage in some trade with the outside world. The Deutero-Malays are considered the direct ancestors of present-day Malay people. Notable Proto-Malays of today are Moken, Jakun, Orang Kuala, Temuan and Orang Kanaq. +

Proto Malays, from Yunnan, China?

Anthropologists have traced the migration of Proto Malays, who were seafarers, to some 10,000 years ago when they sailed by boat (canoe or perahu) along the Mekong River from Yunnan to the South China Sea and eventually settled down at various places. The Mekong River is approximately 4180 kilometers in length. It originates in from Tibet and runs through Yunnan province of China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and South Vietnam. [Source: Wikipedia

Inhabitants of early Yunnan may be traced back into prehistory from a homo erectus fossil, 'Yuanmou Man', which was unearthed in the 1960s. In year 221 BC, Qin Shihuang conquered Yunnan and unified China. Yunnan has since become a province of China. They were the ancestors of rice eating peoples, with their culture of cultivating rice spread throughout the entire region. The native name of the Mekong River peoples' home in Yunnan is Xishuangbanna (Sipsongpanna) which literally means "twelve thousand rice fields", it is the home of the Dai minority. Xishuangbanna sits at a lower altitude than most of the Yunnan mountainous ranges. Yunnan women on the street, wearing batik & sarong.

The theory of Proto Malay originating from Yunnan is supported by R.H Geldern, J.H.C Kern, J.R Foster, J.R Logen, Slametmuljana and Asmah Haji Omar. The Proto Malay (Melayu asli) who first arrived possessed agricultural skills while the second wave Deutero Malay (mixed blood) who joined in around 1500 B.C. and dwelled along the coastlines have advanced fishery skills. During the migration, both groups intermarried with peoples of the southern islands, such as those from Java (Indonesian), and also with aboriginal peoples of Australoid, Negrito and Melanesoid origin.

Other evidences that support this theory include: 1) Stone tools found at Malay archipelago are analogous to Central Asian tools. 2) Similarity of Malay customs and Assam customs. 3) Malay language & Cambodian language are kindred languages because the ancestral home of Cambodians originated from the source of Mekong River. The Kedukan Bukit Inscription of A.D. 682 found at Palembang and the modern Yunnan Dai minority's traditional writings belong to the same script family, Pallava, also known as Pallava Grantha. Dai ethnic (or Dai minority) of Yunnan is one of the aboriginal inhabitants of modern Yunnan province of China.

Diversity Among Indonesian People

Indonesia encompasses some 17,508 islands (some sources say 13,667 islands, other sources say as many as 18,000), of which about 6,000 are inhabited. Indonesia’s social and geographic environment is one of the most complex and varied in the world. By one count, at least 731 distinct languages and more than 1,100 different dialects are spoken in the archipelago. The landscape ranges from rain forests and steaming mangrove swamps to arid plains and snowcapped mountains. Major world religions—Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism—are represented, as well as many varieties of animistic practices and ancestor worship. [Library of Congress *]

According to kwintessential.co.uk: 1) Each province has its own language, ethnic make-up, religions and history. 2) Most people will define themselves locally before nationally. 3) In addition there are many cultural influences stemming back from difference in heritage. Indonesians are a mix of Chinese, European, Indian, and Malay. 4) Although Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world it also has a large number of Christian Protestants, Catholics, Hindus and Buddhists. 5) This great diversity has needed a great deal of attention from the government to maintain a cohesion. 6) As a result the national motto is "Unity in Diversity", the language has been standardised and a national philisophy has been devised know as "Pancasila" which stresses universal justice for all Indonesians. [Source: kwintessential.co.uk]

Systems of local political authority vary from the ornate sultans’ courts of central Java to the egalitarian communities of hunter- gatherers in the jungles of Kalimantan. A variety of economic patterns also can be found within Indonesia’s borders, from rudimentary slash-and-burn agriculture to highly sophisticated computer microchip industries. Some Indonesian communities rely on traditional feasting systems and marriage exchange for economic distribution, while others act as sophisticated brokers in international trading networks operating throughout the world. Indonesians also have a variety of living arrangements. Some go home at night to extended families living in isolated bamboo longhouses; others return to hamlets of tiny houses clustered around a mosque; still others go home to nuclear families in urban high-rise apartment complexes. *

Indonesia’s variations in culture have been shaped by centuries of complex interactions with the physical environment. Although Indonesians in general are now less vulnerable to the vicissitudes of nature as a result of improved technology and social programs, it is still possible to discern ways in which cultural variations are linked to traditional patterns of adjustment to their physical circumstances. *

The majority of the population embraces Islam, while in Bali the Hindu religion is predominant. In areas like the Minahasa in North Sulawesi, the Toraja highlands in South Sulawesi, in the East Nusatenggara islands and in large parts of Papua, in the Batak highlands as well as on Nias island in North Sumatra, the majority are either Catholics or Protestants.[Source: Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, Republic of Indonesia]

Unity Among Indonesia’s People

There are striking similarities among the nation’s diverse groups. Besides citizenship in a common nation-state, the single most unifying cultural characteristic is a shared linguistic heritage. Almost all of the nation’s estimated 240 million people speak at least one of several Austronesian languages, which, although often not mutually intelligible, share many vocabulary items and have similar sentence patterns. Most important, an estimated 83 percent of the population can speak Bahasa Indonesia, the official national language. Used in government, schools, print and electronic media, and multiethnic cities, this Malay-derived language is both an important unifying symbol and a vehicle of national integration. *

True to the Pancasila, the five principles of nationhood — namely Belief in the One and Only God, a Just and Civilized Humanity, the Unity of Indonesia, Democracy through unanimous deliberations, and Social Justice for all — Indonesian societies are open and remain tolerant towards one another’s religion, customs and traditions, all the while faithfully adhering to their own. The Indonesian coat of arms moreover bears the motto: Bhinneka Tunggal Ika – Unity in Diversity. [Source: Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, Republic of Indonesia ^^^]

The society of many groups have traditionally been divided into three groups: nobles, commoners and slaves. Although slavery has formally been abolished it continues to exits as a social rank. To have a slave as an ancestor equates to low status. Adat (local customary practices) is supervised and administered by a headmen and elders. Sometimes it is codified like modern laws. But often each village has their own adat. Some Muslim groups practice female circumcision. Headhunting was practiced by many groups, particularly those on Borneo and West Papua.

After Independence in 1945 inter-marriages among people of different ethnic groups became more common and this development has helped weld the population into a more cohesive Indonesian nation. Although today’s youth especially in the large cities is modern and follow international trends, yet when it comes to weddings, couples still adhere to traditions on the side of both the bride’s and bridegroom’s parents. So in a mixed ethnic wedding, the vows and wedding traditions may follow the bride’s family’s, while during the reception elaborate decorations and costumes follow the groom’s ethnic traditions, or vice versa. Weddings and wedding receptions in Indonesia are a great introduction to Indonesia’s many and diverse customs and traditions. Weddings are often also occasions to display one’s social status, wealth and fashion sense. Even in villages, hundreds or even thousands of wedding invitees line up to congratulate the couple and their parents who are seated on stage, and then enjoy the wedding feast and entertainment. ^^^

Modernization of Indonesia’s People

In 2007 some 50 percent of Indonesians lived in cities, defined by the government’s Central Statistical Office as areas with population densities greater than 5,000 persons per square kilometer or where fewer than 25 percent of households are employed in the agricultural sector. The percentage of Indonesians who live in rural areas, and who are closely associated with agriculture, stockbreeding, forestry, or fishing, has been declining steadily. For example, about 53 percent of the workforce was employed in agriculture, hunting, forestry, and fishing as recently as the mid- 1980s; by 2005 that figure had decreased to 44 percent. [Source: Library of Congress *]

As the Indonesian population has grown, become more educated, and moved increasingly toward urban centers, small-scale agriculture and trading have played decreasing roles in defining people’s lifestyles. The rapid expansion of the manufacturing, retail, and service industries has led to ways of living defined more by social, cultural, and economic interests than by geographic and environmental forces.*

The mobility, educational achievement, and urbanization of the Indonesian population have increased overall since the mid-1990s. Indonesians have become increasingly exposed to the variety of their nation’s cultures through television, the Internet, newspapers, schools, and cultural activities. Links to indigenous geographic regions and sociocultural heritage have weakened, and the contexts for the expression of those links have narrowed. Ethnicity is a means of identification in certain situations but not in others. For example, during Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, peasants from Java might emphasize their Islamic faith and affiliation, whereas in other settings they emphasize their membership in the national state by attending school, participating in family-planning programs, and belonging to village cooperatives, and by invoking the Pancasila, the state ideology, as a moral justification for personal and family choices. In a similar way, isolated hill tribes living in the interior of islands such as Sulawesi, Seram, or Timor might express devotion to ancestral spirits through animal sacrifice at home but swear loyalty to the Indonesian state in school or at the polls. A person’s identity as an Indonesian is richly interwoven with familial, regional, and ethnic heritage. *

What Is an Indonesian?

Debate about the nature of Indonesia’s past and its relationship to a national identity preceded by many decades the Republic’s proclamation of independence in 1945, and it has continued in different forms and with varying degrees of intensity ever since. But beginning in the late 1990s, the polemic intensified, becoming more polarized and entangled in political conflict. Historical issues took on an immediacy and a moral character they had not earlier possessed, and historical answers to the questions, “What is Indonesia?” and “Who is an Indonesian?” became, for the first time, part of a period of widespread public introspection. Notably, too, this was a discussion in which foreign observers of Indonesian affairs had an important voice. [Source: Library of Congress *]

There are two main views in this debate. In one of them, contemporary Indonesia, both as an idea and as a reality, appears in some degree misconceived, and contemporary “official” readings of its history fundamentally wrong. In large part, this is a perspective originating with the political left, which seeks, among other things, to correct its brutal eclipse from national life since 1965. But it also has been, often for rather different reasons, a dominant perspective among Muslim intellectuals and foreign observers disenchanted with the military-dominated government of Suharto’s New Order (1966–98) or disappointed with the perceived failures of Indonesian nationalism in general. The foreign observers, for example, increasingly emphasized to their audiences that “in the beginning there was no Indonesia,” portraying it as “an unlikely nation,” a “nation in waiting,” or an “unfinished nation,” suggesting that contemporary national unity was a unidimensional, neocolonial, New Order construction too fragile to long survive the fall of that government. *

An alternative view, reflecting government-guided textbook versions of the national past, defines Indonesia primarily by its long anticolonial struggle and focuses on integrative, secular, and transcendent “mainstream” nationalist perspectives. In this epic, linear, and often hyperpatriotic conception of the past, Indonesia is the outcome of a singular, inevitable, and more or less self-evident historical process, into which internal difference and conflict have been absorbed, and on which the national character and unity depend. Some foreign writers, often without fully realizing it, are inclined to accept, without much questioning, the essentials of this story of the development of the nation and its historical identity. *

Both of these views came into question in the first decade of the twenty-first century. On the one hand, Indonesia’s persistence for more than 60 years as a unitary nation-state, and its ability to survive both the political, social, and economic upheavals and the natural disasters that followed the New Order, have driven many foreign specialists to try to account for this outcome. Both they and Indonesians themselves found reason to attempt a more nuanced reevaluation of such topics as the role of violence and the various forms of nationalism in contemporary society. On the other hand, a general recognition took hold that monolithic readings of Indonesia’s (national) historical identity fit neither past facts nor contemporary sensibilities. In particular, Indonesian intellectuals’ penchant for attempting to “straighten out history” ( menyelusuri sejarah) began to be recognized largely as an exercise in replacing one singular perspective with another. Some younger historians have begun to question the nature and purpose of a unitary “national” history, and to search for ways to incorporate more diverse views into their approaches. Although it is still too early to determine where these realignments and efforts at reinterpretation will lead, it is clear that in contemporary Indonesia, history is recognized as a key to understanding the present and future nation, but it can no longer be approached in the monolithic and often ideological terms so common in the past. *

Ethnic Groups in Indonesia

Indonesia is a culturally very diverse nation. There are thousands of ethnic identities in Indonesia and people identify quite strongly with their roots. In some areas of the country the conflicts between ethnic groups are more pronounced and, as we have seen in the news of recent years, quite brutal and violent. In Bali, the Balinese identify with their Balinese heritage above being Indonesian, as do the Javanese, the Sudanese, etc. I think this is the norm for most groups regardless of the region or province of origin.

Ethnic identities are not always clear, stable (even for individuals), or agreed upon; ethnic groups may appear or profess to be more distinct socially or culturally than they actually are. But there are about 350 recognized ethnolinguistic groups in Indonesia, 180 of them located in Papua; 13 languages have more than 1 million speakers.

The Indonesian population is made up of 100 to 300 ethnic groups (depending on how they are counted) who speak around 300 different regional languages. Most of the people are of Malay descent. The Javanese are the largest ethnic group. Living primarily in the eastern and central part of Java, they make up of 40 to 45 percent of the population (depending on the source and how they are defined) and dominate the country's politics. The Sudanese, who also live on Java, are the second largest group (15.5 percent). The other large ethnic groups are Malays (3.7 percent) and Batak (3.6 percent), who live primarily on Sumatra; the Madurese (3 percent), who are the island of Madura and Java; Betawi (2.9 percent); Minangkabau (2.7 percent); Buginese (2.7 percent) on Sulawesi; Bantenese (2 percent); Banjarese (1.7 percent); Chinese (1.2 percent); Balinese (1.7 percent) on Bali; the Acehnese (1.4 percent) in northern Sumatra; Dayak (1.4 percent) in Kalimantan; Sasak (1.3 percent); Chinese (1.2 percent); Other 15 percent. (2010 est., CIA World Factbook]

More than 14 percent of the population consists of numerous small ethnic groups or minorities. The precise extent of this diversity is unknown, however, because the Indonesian census stopped reporting data on ethnicity in 1930, under the Dutch, and only started again in 2000. In that year’s census, nine categories of ethnicity were reported (by age-group and province): Jawa, Sunda and Priangan, Madura, Minangkabau, Betawi, Bugis and Ugi, Ban-ten, Banjar and Melayu Banjar, and lainnya (other).

Indonesians are mostly Muslims. Most ethnic Chinese are non-Muslim. They have traditionally controlled the businesses in Indonesia and still dominate some sectors of the economy. Among the more interesting ethnic groups are Dayaks (former headhunters on Kalimantan), the Asmet (former headhunters in West Papua that are similar to tribes in Papua New Guinea), the Toraja (a tribe on Sulawesi that has interesting burial customs) and the Sumbaese (a group that put dead relatives in their relatives in their living room for several years before they are permanently put to rest.

Adat and Traditions in Multi-Ethnic Indonesia

Traditionally farmers and fishermen, they have made great advances in the last 30 years. As this increasingly mobile, multiethnic nation moves into its seventh decade of independence, Indonesians are becoming aware— through education, television, cinema, print media, and national parks—of the diversity of their own society. When Indonesians talk about their cultural differences with one another, one of the key words they use is adat. The term is roughly translated as “custom” or “tradition,” but its meaning has undergone a number of transformations in Indonesia. In some circumstances, for instance, adat has a kind of legal status—certain adat laws (hukum adat) are recognized by the government as legitimate. These ancestral guidelines may pertain to a wide range of activities: agricultural production, religious practices, marriage arrangements, legal practices, political succession, or artistic expression. [Library of Congress *]

Even though the vast majority of them are Muslims, Indonesians maintain very different systems of social identification. For example, when Javanese try to explain the behavior of a Sundanese or a Balinese counterpart, they might say “because it is his adat.” Differences in the ways ethnic groups practice Islam are often ascribed to adat. Each group may have different patterns of observing religious holidays, attending the mosque, expressing respect, or burying the dead. *

Adat in the sense of “custom” is often viewed as one of the deepest—even sacred—sources of consensus within an ethnic group, however, the word itself is from Arabic. Through centuries of contact with outsiders, Indonesians have a long history of contrasting themselves and their traditions with those of others, and their notions of who they are as a people have been shaped in basic ways by these encounters. On some of the more isolated islands in eastern Indonesia, for instance, one finds ethnic groups that have no word equivalent to adat because they have had very little contact with outsiders. *

Early in the New Order, the notion of adat came to take on a national significance in touristic settings such as Balinese artistic performances and museum displays. Taman Mini, a kind of ethnographic theme park on the outskirts of Jakarta, seeks to display and interpret the cultural diversity of Indonesia. This 100-hectare park is landscaped to look like the Indonesian archipelago in miniature when viewed from an overhead tramway. There is a house for each province, to represent vernacular architecture. The park sells distinctive local hand weapons, textiles, and books explaining the customs of the province. One powerful message of the park is that adat is contained in objective, material culture, which is aesthetically pleasing and indeed marketable, but which is more or less distinct from everyday social life. Furthermore, the exhibits convey the impression to some observers that ethnicity is a simple aesthetic matter of regional and spatial variations rather than an issue of deep emotional or political attachments. However, the park provides visitors with a vivid and attractive (if not always convincing) model for how the Indonesian national motto, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity, a Javanese slogan dating to fourteenth-century Kediri poet Mpu Tantular’s poem “Sutasoma”) might be understood. *

When Indonesians talk about their society in inclusive terms, they are more likely to use a word such as budaya (culture) than adat. One speaks of kebudayaan Indonesia, the “culture of Indonesia,” as something grand, that refers to traditions of refinement and high civilization. The dances, music, and literature of Java and Bali and the great monuments associated with these islands’ religion are often described as examples of “culture” or “civilization” but not “custom” (or adat). However, as the following descriptions show, the variety of sources of local identification underscore the diversity rather than the unity of the Indonesian population. *

Javanese

The Javanese are Indonesia’s largest ethnic group and the third largest Muslim ethnic group in the world following Arabs and Bengalis. They live primarily in the provinces of east and Central Java but are found throughout Indonesia’s islands. “Wong Djawa” and “Tijang Djawi” are the names that Javanese use to refer to themselves. The Indonesian term for them is “Ornag Djawa.” The word Java is derived from the Sanskrit word yava, meaning “barely, grain.” The name is very old and appeared in Ptolemy’s Geography, from Roman Empire of the A.D. 2nd century.

The Javanese dominate many facades of Indonesian life. They control the government and the military. The also control large sectors of the economy because of Indonesia's most lucrative export crops are grown on Java.

There are approximately 83 million Javanese, the majority of whom live in Jawa Timur and Jawa Tengah provinces; most of the rest live in Jawa Barat Province and on Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and other islands. (Altogether, some 110 million people live on Java.) Although many Javanese express pride at the grand achievements of the illustrious courts of Surakarta and Yogyakarta and admire the traditional arts associated with them, most Javanese tend to identify not with that elite tradition, or even with a lineage or clan, but with their own village of residence or origin. These villages, or desa, are typically situated on the edge of rice fields, surrounding a mosque, or strung along a road.

Javanese Dominance in Indonesia

Although Indonesia consists of many people coming from different areas of the country from east to west, most Indonesians are Javanese. Hence Javanese (Bahasa Jawa) is used a lot in the workplace among coworkers. The Javanese custom/culture also dominates the workplace. [Source: Canadian Centre for Intercultural Learning, intercultures.gc.ca ||||]

Since Javanese is the more dominant culture, in the workplace or at home, foreigners have to keep in mind that Javanese are more sensitive people and their language/ is more high context than any other Indonesians who come from other areas in Indonesia. They will not be straight forward when they want to convey something to you. When supervising a project, it is recommended to closely monitor your subordinates, ask them about the progress of the project regularly, just in case they have any problems or need help etc. because Javanese are very polite people. It is very hard for them to ask for help and to be the bearer of "bad news". ||||

During the Suharto years there was a government program of forced migration for population control, which some say was an attempt to force Javanese dominance on the rest of the country. This program has largely contributed to a lot of the ethnic tensions throughout the country. Also, because of the economic disparities between regions and provinces there is a lot of domestic migration as people try to go to where the jobs are (mainly Bali and Jakarta). In Bali, it is not uncommon to hear contemptuous comments about the Javanese (as there are so many that have come for work) and if there is a theft in the office, for example, the Javanese will be the first to be blamed. ||||

Sundanese

Although there are many social, economic, and political similarities between the Javanese and Sundanese, differences abound. The Sundanese live principally in West Java, but their language is not intelligible to the Javanese. The more than 21 million Sundanese in 1992 had stronger ties to Islam than the Javanese, in terms of pesantren enrollment and religious affiliation. Although the Sundanese language, like Javanese, possesses elaborate speech levels, these forms of respect are infused with Islamic values, such as the traditional notion of hormat (respect--knowing and fulfilling one's proper position in society). Children are taught that the task of behaving with proper hormat is also a religious struggle--the triumph of akal (reason) over nafsu (desire). These dilemmas are spelled out in the pesantren, where children learn to memorize the Quran in Arabic. Through copious memorization and practice in correct pronunciation, children learn that reasonable behavior means verbal conformity with authority and subjective interpretation is a sign of inappropriate individualism. *

Although Sundanese religious practices share some of the HinduBuddhist beliefs of their Javanese neighbors--for example, the animistic beliefs in spirits and the emphasis on right thinking and self-control as a way of controlling those spirits--Sundanese courtly traditions differ from those of the Javanese. The Sundanese language possesses an elaborate and sophisticated literature preserved in Indic scripts and in puppet dramas. These dramas use distinctive wooden dolls (wayang golek, as contrasted with the wayang kulit of the Javanese and Balinese), but Sundanese courts have aligned themselves more closely to universalistic tenets of Islam than have the elite classes of Central Java. *

As anthropologist Jessica Glicken observed, Islam is a particularly visible and audible presence in the life of the Sundanese. She reported that "[t]he calls to the five daily prayers, broadcast over loudspeakers from each of the many mosques in the city [Bandung], punctuate each day. On Friday at noon, sarong-clad men and boys fill the streets on their way to the mosques to join the midday prayer known as the Juma'atan which provides the visible definition of the religious community (ummah) in the Sundanese community." She also emphasized the militant pride with which Islam is viewed in Sundanese areas. "As I traveled around the province in 1981, people would point with pride to areas of particular heavy military activity during the Darul Islam period."

It is not surprising that the Sunda region was an important site for the Muslim separatist Darul Islam rebellion that began in the 1948 and continued until 1962. The underlying causes of this rebellion have been a source of controversy, however. Political scientist Karl D. Jackson, trying to determine why men did or did not participate in the rebellion, argued that religious convictions were less of a factor than individual life histories. Men participated in the rebellion if they had personal allegiance to a religious or village leader who persuaded them to do so. *

Although Sundanese and Javanese possess similar family structures, economic patterns, and political systems, they feel some rivalry toward one another. As interregional migration increased in the 1980s and 1990s, the tendency to stereotype one another's adat in highly contrastive terms intensified, even as actual economic and social behavior were becoming increasingly interdependent. *

See Minorities.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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