Ethnic groups in Indonesia: Javanese 40.1 percent, Sundanese 15.5 percent, Malay 3.7 percent, Batak 3.6 percent, Madurese 3 percent, Betawi 2.9 percent, Minangkabau 2.7 percent, Buginese 2.7 percent, Bantenese 2 percent, Banjarese 1.7 percent, Balinese 1.7 percent, Acehnese 1.4 percent, Dayak 1.4 percent, Sasak 1.3 percent, Chinese 1.2 percent, other 15 percent (2010 est.) [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Indonesia is incredibly diverse. According to one count there are 336 ethnic groups in Indonesia, speaking more 700 languages, spread among 13,000 islands. By other counts there are more than 1,000 ethnic groups and subgroups. Because there are so many islands and on the islands the landscape is often very rugged, ethnic groups have developed in isolated spots. On the tiny island of Alor, for example, there are 140,000 people divided among 50 tribes, each of which speaks a distinct language or dialects that fall into seven distinct language groups. There About 350 recognized ethnolinguistic groups, 180 located in Papua; 13 languages have more than 1 million speakers.

In Indonesia, the concept of ethnic minorities is often discussed not in numerical but in religious terms. Although the major ethnic groups claim adherence to one of the major world religions (agama) recognized by the Department of Religious Affairs—Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Daoism—millions of other Indonesians engage in religious or cultural practices that fall outside these categories. These practices are sometimes labeled animist or kafir (pagan). In general, these Indonesians inhabit the more remote, sparsely populated islands of the archipelago. Following the massacre of tens of thousands associated with the alleged 1965 coup attempt by “atheist” communists, mandatory religious affiliation became an even more intense political issue among minority groups. The groups described in the following sections represent a broad sample, chosen for their geographic and cultural diversity. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Traveling from one island to another is often like going from one country to another. Often there is little to unite the people on one island with another. After independence in 1949, “Unity in Diversity” was adopted as a national slogan and was pushed on Indonesians. The only modern nation comparable in terms of multiplicity of ethnic groups, languages and religions is the former Soviet Union. Through the development of a national language, standardized education and persistent government propaganda, Indonesia has become surprisingly unified.

Nearly all of Indonesia are classified as “pribumi,” or “sons of the soil,” a term coined during Dutch colonial rule to designate “native Indonesians.” But many ethnic groups have never felt part of or represented by the Java-based government. Like many cultures in Africa, they were arbitrarily forged in a state by European colonial powers interested primarily in power and making money. When different groups are forced to live with each other they often judge one another by conflicting, homegrown customs. Even the nation motto is “Bhineka tanggal ika” (“they are many; they or one,” or “unity in diversity”) Indonesians often greet strangers with Orang apa?” ("Who are your people?") and “Dari mana” ("Where are you from?"), which can be both a friendly way to make conservation or a means of sizing someone based o their ethnicity. The term “bule” is often used to describe foreigners. It means white faces.

Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia” edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993)

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. ^^^

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 Sundanese, 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 Sundanese, 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 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. ||||

Government and Minorities

People are identified by their religion on their identity cards, not their ethnic group. Many minorities are administered by the central government to varying degrees down to the district and village levels and below that they govern themselves. The Indonesian government provides schools, police, road maintenance, health post and other basic services.

Some ethnic groups do not want to share resources found in their land with other groups and don’t want other ethnic groups to settle on their land. In some cases they don’t even like other ethnic groups to come and work.

The "unity in diversity" is embraced as the key to Indonesian cohesiveness. This notion was encouraged by the Dutch but grew in importance as Indonesians rallied together for independence from the Dutch.

The government says the indigenous people own their land but if he needs it the government simply takes it. It is illegal for ethnic groups within Indonesia to refer to themselves as anything other than Indonesians. People have been killed for possessing a copy of underground magazine speaking out against government policies on minorities or raising the West Papuan flag.

Suharto and Minorities

Indonesia's harmonious mix of cultures was fostered by the Suharto dictatorship. Under Suharto, no one was allowed to preach hatred or racial intolerance. But many felt that ethnic tensions bubbled below the surface. Suharto was accused of creating unity with a shallow, artificial nationalism. Indonesia's film maker Garin Nugroho said, "We lost our regional identities with replacing them with something. The government forced society into limbo, into 'unity,' which was just homogeneity by violence and manipulation. And this became a time bomb." See Pancasila.

Suharto—and Sukarno before him—attempted to stifle religion and ethnic intolerance by promoting a strong sense of national unity with a common language and the national philosophy of Pancasila. The power of Suharto's military was enough to intimidate most rival ethnic groups into getting along, at least superficially. Provincial governors were appointed from Jakarta and the military was a major presence in most cities, towns and villages.

But, Richard Lloyd Perry wrote in the Independent, “Rather than eliminating ethnic and religious differences, Suharto froze them, forcing unity and sniffling dissent with repressive military apparatus...Only in the last few years has it become obvious what an illusion that was." Lug Ketut Suryani, a psychiatrist and Bali activist told the Washington Post, "Having a multiethnic culture means we are all Indonesians. But Suharto tried to make us all uniform, so you can't differentiate Jakarta from Surabaya from Denpesar...We say that colonialism now comes from our own people...We feel like a stepchild."


Transmigration has been a scheme in which mostly poor and landless people in Java and other overpopulated islands have been resettled in Indonesia's frontier areas with free house lots, supplies and other incentives. Transmigration was started 1905 by the Dutch, who, moved 650,000 people most from Java to Sumatra. The policy was continued by Sukarno and accelerated under Suharto with financial support from the World Bank, who put up $5 billion for the project.

More than 8.5 million people were moved from densely populated areas, primarily in Java, to Sumatra, Kalimantan, the Moluccas, and West Papua (Irian Jaya, on New Guinea) during the main transmigration period between 1969 and 1994. More than 3.2 million were resettled when the program was its peak between 1984 and 1989. About 5.5 million people have participated in official transmigration schemes. Unassisted migration has accounted for another two million.

"Transmigration is necessary," a teacher, who migrated to West Papua (Irian Jaya, on New Guinea) from Java told the New York Times, "because more than half of Indonesia's population lives in Java, while Kalimantan and West Papua (Irian Jaya, on New Guinea) are empty." In addition to helping ease population pressures on Java, transmigration has provided timber and mining companies in Kalimantan and West Papua and elsewhere with a ready supply of labor.

As of 1995 about 1,700,000 government-sponsored settlers and 1,000,000 unassisted settlers had migrated to Sumatra; 400,000 government-sponsored settlers and 600,000 unassisted settlers had migrated to Kalimantan (Borneo); 300,000 government-sponsored settlers and 300,000 unassisted settlers had migrated to Sulawesi; and 200,000 government-sponsored settlers and 100,000 unassisted settlers had migrated to West Papua (West Papua (Irian Jaya, on New Guinea), New Guinea).

Transmigration Settlers

Most transmigration settlers have been Javanese. Transmigration has been a threat to the places they have resettled. It is feared the Javanese will intermix with local people and dilute and eventually wipe out their identity. They have also been a major force in deforestation. When logging operations build new roads, settlers have moved in on the roads to occupy the logged land and chop down trees and claim the land on the perimeters of the logged land.

Many of the settlers have not been skilled farmers with knowledge of how to make the best of their land. Rather two thirds of them have been landless peasants and ten percent have been homeless city dwellers. After failing as farmers many have moved to the cities and towns.

There have been some success stories. Unemployed people in Java have been able to establish profitable farms. Describing new settlers who have been able improve themselves, one Indonesian writer noted, they "arrive by ship, sleep rough in marketplaces, relieve themselves on riverbanks, then return home by air."

Transmigration settlements, designated with numbers like SP6, have been set up in areas cleared from the rain forest. Laid out in rows like homes in an American suburb, tin-roof houses have been constructed of painted rain forest timber. Transmigration settlers who have moved from Java and Bali to West Papua have been given five acres of land, a year’s worth of rice and a free one-way ticket to the settlement. When new settlers arrive the bare land is usually covered with forest debris and burnt stumps.

Transmigration Problems

Transmigration projects have been plagued with problems, including seizure of land, destruction of traditional subsistence patterns by ill conceived development schemes, conflicts between the new settlers and indigenous people, and tossing settlers on poor land, which have been difficult to cultivate. Some places produce crops for only a few years before the nutrients in the thin oil give out. Families participating in the transmigration often get poor yields from their crops and suffer from malaria.

Transmigration has often been done without regard to concerns about how certain ethnic groups would get along if they were forced to live together. Some people in the Suharto government actually thought mixing groups like this would foster a sense of national bonding.

In many cases local people who had traditional rights to the land where immigrants were located had no say in the transmigration scheme and were not compensated. In some cases migrants were given jobs, education and special privileges not granted to local people. The migrants often have also benefitted the most from new hospitals and government-built homes. Part of the legacy of transmigration has been serious outbreaks of violence in places where it took place: Kalimantan, West Papua, East Timor and other places.

Transmigration has blamed for a lot of deforestation. Farmers used to the rich volcanic soil from Java would use farming techniques from their home island with disastrous results in Borneo and Sumatra and West Papua. Often they clear one area in forest, use it for a few years and then clear another area.

In 1995, Suharto issued a presidential decree to convert 14,000 square kilometers of central Kalimantan in agricultural land for 315,000 families migrating from other islands as part of the transmigration program. The emphasis now is on voluntary transmigration.

Ethnic Troubles in Indonesia

The combination of economic distresses, a breakdown of law and order and the release of pent up aggression resulted a wave of ethnic violence before and after Suharto resigned in May 1998. There were some concerns at that time that Indonesia would become Balkanized (divided into warring states) like Yugoslavia. Ethnic troubles, population growth and other reasons produced more than 1 million internally displaced refugees in 2001, 10 percent of the world’s total.

Many non-Javanese shudder at the idea of being told what to do by the Javanese. The Indonesian government does little to help ethnic groups displaced by violence and fear of violence other than evacuate them and dump them some place, where the provincial governments are left to take care of them.

A key characteristic of Suharto’s New Order regime was the prevalence of security and order throughout the nation. Any outbreak of violence between ethnic or religious groups was quickly and sternly repressed. Tensions simmered below the surface, however, and after Suharto’s fall in 1998, ethnic and religious conflict erupted in several regions. Security forces were initially ineffective in regaining control because the police, poorly trained, poorly equipped, and understaffed, were ill prepared to handle large-scale unrest. The TNI, stung by accusations of human-rights abuses, and resentful of the change in mission responsibility, was reluctant to intervene without a formal request for assistance from local authorities. [Source: Library of Congress *]

In Kalimantan Barat Province, the relative harmony that had prevailed among native Malays, ethnic Chinese, and Dayaks for generations was upset by the influx of hundreds of thousands of Madurese under the Transmigration Program in the 1970s and 1980s. Communal violence in the 1990s was triggered by Dayak discontent with the Madurese community’s hold on the economic balance of power in the region, and by a perception that the Madurese were illegally taking Dayak land. Hundreds of settlers were killed in the Sambas area of Kalimantan Barat in early 1999 and the Sampit area of Kalimantan Tengah Province in February 2001. By April 2001, almost 100,000 Madurese, many of whom had resided in Kalimantan for several generations, had been evacuated to Madura and Java. Dayak leaders and government officials conducted reconciliation talks, but the return of the Madurese was slow to occur. *

Conflict broke out in Maluku Province in 1999 after a seemingly minor clash between a bus driver and a passenger who refused to pay his fare exploded into wide-ranging Muslim–Christian violence in Ambon that quickly expanded throughout the Maluku Islands. More than 5,000 people were killed between 1999 and 2002. Islamic militants in Jakarta called for jihad to support their coreligionists on the islands. Similar Muslim–Christian violence flared around the Sulawesi Tengah city of Poso during the same period. Hard-line civilian and military sympathizers, who wanted to destabilize the regime of then-President Abdurrahman Wahid, collaborated to organize, train, equip, and arm the Laskar Jihad (Jihad Militia) and arranged the unimpeded transfer of several thousand members of the militia to both Ambon and Poso. This caused a major escalation of the conflict. The government declared a civil emergency, one step short of martial law. In February 2002, leaders of the Christian and Muslim communities in Poso and Maluku Province signed two separate peace agreements aimed at ending three years of sectarian fighting. Both agreements were brokered by Muhammad Yusuf Kalla, who, two years later, was elected vice president of Indonesia. The level of conflict quickly fell, but sporadic violence remained endemic to the entire region. *

See Aceh, West Papua, Madurese, Moluccas, East Timor,

Special Autonomy Laws in Indonesia

B.J. Habibie and AbdurrahmanWahid—the two presidents that followed Suharto—made some efforts to give the provinces in Indonesia more control of their own affairs. Special Autonomy Laws were set up to give indigenous people more say in their affairs were passed under Habibie in 1999. The laws were passed mainly to keep East Timor from demanding independence but had a an impact to places like Aceh in northern Sumatra and West Papua (Irian Jaya, on New Guinea).

The laws affected 26 of Indonesia’s 27 provinces and were viewed as a move towards making Indonesia a federalist state like the United States. The laws gave the provinces more authority over all matters except defense, foreign policy and judicial, fiscal, monetary and religious affairs and matters deemed ‘strategic.”

Six new provinces were officially created in 2001: North Maluka, Maluka, West Irian Jaya (later West Papua), East Irian Jaya (New Guinea), Banten (previously part of West Java) and Banka-Belitung (once part of South Sumatra Province). The move was made to ease ethnic tensions in these provinces, give them more autonomy and say over how their resources were exploited. They also had to take on more responsibility.

There has been a call to bring back the sultanate system as a way of strengthening local identity.

Malaysia Verus Indonesia on Race Policy

Thomas Fuller wrote in York Times: “Indonesia and Malaysia have much in common: language; a border that slices across Borneo; overlapping ethnic groups. But the two countries are moving in opposite directions on the fundamental question of what it means to be a "native." With a new citizenship law passed this year, Indonesia has redefined "indigenous" to include its ethnic Chinese population — a radical shift from centuries of policies, both during colonial times and after independence in the 1940s, that distinguished between natives and Indonesia's Chinese, Indians and Arabs. Malaysia, meanwhile, is sticking to its longstanding policy that Malay Muslims, the largest ethnic group in the country, are "bumiputras," or sons of the soil, who have special rights above and beyond those of the country's Chinese and Indian minorities. Maintaining this controversial policy has led to what one commentator calls a retribalization of Malaysian politics, with rising assertiveness on the part of the country's Malay Muslims. [Source: Thomas Fuller, New York Times, December 13, 2006]

“Both Indonesia and Malaysia have suffered race riots in recent decades. Indonesia's were much bloodier and more far-flung. Yet today, ethnic tensions are more likely to make headlines in Malaysia than Indonesia. Malaysia's Chinese community was angered by the demolition of a Taoist temple in Penang. Both Muslims and non-Muslims are upset about a series of disputes over whether Shariah or secular law should take precedence....Paradoxically, some in Malaysia, which has long been wealthier and more politically stable, are looking admiringly at developments in Indonesia. Azly Rahman, a Malay commentator on the widely read Web site Malaysiakini, said poor Indians and Chinese are neglected under the current system. "A new bumiputra should be created," he said. "Being a Malaysian means forgetting about the status of our fathers. We need affirmative action for all races."

Separatism Issue in Indonesia

In 2007, Rizal Sukma wrote in the Jakarta Post, “It seems the problem of separatism in Indonesia will not go away easily. After the success of resolving the Aceh separatist problem, the problem has begun to once again resurface in eastern Indonesia, where within a week two separatism-related incidents took place. First, a group of people, during the 14th National Family Day event in Ambon, Maluku, entered the ceremony area, performed a traditional dance called the cakalele and waved flags of the separatist South Maluku Republic (RMS). Second, scores of Papuan people waved the Bintang Kejora flag, which symbolizes the demand for independence of the province, while performing a dance at the Papuan Customary Council congress. A group of Papuan students also waved the Bintang Kejora flag during a demonstration in Yogyakarta. [Source: Rizal Sukma, Jakarta Post, Opinion, July 10 2007. The writer is deputy executive director of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)=]

“No one denies that Indonesia has been facing the challenges of separatism since it became an independent nation in 1945. In the past, it has managed to put down some of the rebellions. Recently, the Indonesian government even managed to resolve the Aceh separatist movement in a civilized way. However, these latest incidents in Ambon and Papua demonstrate the persistence of the problem. It is true that the magnitude of the problem, especially in Maluku, does not yet pose a security threat to the public or the nation. However, the problem does not lie in the ability of separatist groups to disturb security or launch a military offensive against government troops. The problem lies in the presence of non-violent aspirations for independence. =

“In today's world, non-violent aspirations for independence can be far more lethal than an armed rebellion. This kind of separatist movement will always try to attract international attention and then international support. Once the problem becomes part of the global media agenda, it will be hard to remove it from the pages of international media. And more international attention is guaranteed if the state responds to the problem by resorting to the use of military force. Therefore, it is important for the government not to fall into that trap. =

“First, it is important not to lose focus in responding to the problem. It is very likely the flag-waving incidents, especially in the case of the RMS, were meant to embarrass and anger the security apparatus, and ultimately the government. Second, in a confused and angry situation, it would be easy for government officials to lose their temper and respond to the incidents inappropriately. Third, if this happens, the problem of the RMS, no matter how small it is right now, would soon become an international issue. =

“Unfortunately, worrying signs have begun to emerge. Government officials, especially within the security establishment, have begun a blame game. The Indonesian Military commander, for example, blamed the National Intelligence Agency (BIN) for what happened in Ambon. BIN, in response, denied it was careless in failing to anticipate the incident. The police have also been accused of incompetence. Military and police chiefs in the province have stated they were prepared to resign over the incident. =

“Responsibility and the ability to anticipate are two key qualities that should be possessed by the security apparatus. In this case, there is no need to blame anyone for the rise of separatist aspirations in Maluku. The intrusion of unwanted people into an event where the President was present is a serious security breach. However, the problem of separatism is a much larger issue. It is the obligation of the government as a whole to reflect and ask itself why some people in Maluku continue to resent the Republic of Indonesia and seek an independent South Maluku Republic. The same goes for the persistence of independence aspirations in Papua. =

“The challenge for the central government here is not how to eradicate the aspiration completely. Because, no matter what the government does, there will always be some people who harbor aspirations for independence. This is also the case in Aceh. The challenge is how to make those aspirations unattractive in the eyes of the general public, so the aspirations will never become an armed insurgency with mass support. =

“In this regard, it is absolutely necessary that the government, especially the security apparatus, responds to this problem with a degree of maturity. The use of repression should be overruled because it would certainly attract international attention, and help the movements grow. Aceh gave us ample lessons on this. Violence will certainly breed more violence. Preventing secessionist aspirations requires conditions where every one feel he or she is part of the Indonesian nation. That requires equality before the law for every citizen, the absence of discrimination based on ethnicity, gender and religion, and the attainment of social justice. If these things are difficult to achieve in a short period of time, the government should at least be able to show it is working hard to achieve them. =

Changing Indonesia’s Citizenship Laws

Thomas Fuller wrote in the International Herald Tribune, “The country has redefined what it means to be a "native." A citizenship law passed in 2006 proclaims that an indigenous Indonesian is someone who was born here to Indonesian citizens, a radical departure for a society that separated the Chinese in one way or another through colonial times and more recently during Suharto's 33-year reign that ended just after the riots in 1998. Other laws have erased the preferential treatment for "pribumi," or indigenous groups, in bank lending and the awarding of government contracts, a policy that still exists in Malaysia, where racial tensions are creeping higher. "The situation of the Chinese has never been as good as today," said Benny Setiono, head of the Chinese Indonesian Association, a nonprofit group that represents the community. "We feel more free, more equal." [Source: Thomas Fuller, International Herald Tribune, December 14, 2006 +]

“The horrors of the anti-Chinese violence in 1998 were the prime impetus for the legal overhaul. But Indonesians also realized that espousing the concept of a "native" could be explosive for everyone, not just the Chinese. "The question of who was here first became very dangerous," said Andreas Harsono, a journalist who is researching a book on nationalism here. "The logic has been manipulated by many politicians." +\

“The so-called transmigration policies of Suharto dispersed hundreds of thousands of families, mainly Javanese, across the archipelago, creating conflicts with other ethnic groups. Today, instead of using the word "pribumi," some politicians claim they are "putra daerah," or local sons, and contrast that with "pendatang," or newcomers. A country that sometimes seems to have as many ethnic groups and dialects as inhabited islands (about 6,000) will probably never be clear of racial rivalries, but tensions are nowhere near the levels of a few years ago. +\

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.

Last Updated June 2015

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.