Indonesia is a stunning country found on the archipelago between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Made of about 17,500 islands dotted above the junction of three tectonic plates, Indonesia has unique geography. If you took a tour of the archipelago, you could see over 100 active volcanoes including the legendary Krakatoa, and you could smell 5,000 species of orchids and maybe meet (from a safe distance) an infamous Komodo dragon – the largest lizard in the world.
But alongside the breathtaking scenery is also poverty. Many Indonesians struggle to meet their children’s needs, which is why Compassion works with churches in the country to help them. Today, we’d love to celebrate some of the amazing things about Indonesia! These fun facts will give you a deeper insight into the culture and traditions of this country where over 150,000 Compassion-assisted children live!
Key Facts About Indonesia
Here are some quick facts you should know about Indonesia:
- Population: 267,026,366
- Capital: Jakarta
- Official language: Bahasa Indonesian, English, Dutch, local dialects (of which Javanese is most common)
- Area: 735,358 square miles (1,904,569 square kilometers) — about the area of Alaska and Washington combined
- Economy: Indonesia is the largest economy in Southeast Asia, but it suffers from poverty, unemployment and inadequate infrastructure. Major exports include petroleum and natural gas as well as rubber, coffee, cocoa and palm oil.
Culture and Traditions of Indonesia
With over 700 languages and more than 300 different ethnic groups, Indonesia has an extremely diverse population. In fact, the nation’s motto is “Bhinneka tunggal ika,” which translates to “Unity in diversity.” With so many different cultures, it’s nearly impossible to describe all the people of Indonesia, so here’s just a little more about the country!
Religion: Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation with almost 90% of the population professing Islam. About 7% identify as Protestant, 3% as Catholic and 1.7% as Hindu. Many of Indonesia’s cultural practices, however, have been influenced by Buddhism, Confucianism and Indigenous religions.
Clothing: Each ethnic group of Indonesia has its own traditional clothing, which leads to a wide variety of styles. Traditional costumes are mainly worn for special occasions, while styles typical in Western countries, like pants, shirts and dresses, are worn in everyday life. The national dress of Indonesia is the “kebaya” – an ornate skirt and blouse combination that mixes the traditional clothing of several people groups. The “blangkon” is a popular headdress for men that resembles a turban. Batik cloth, crafted by applying hot wax to cloth and then dipping it in dye, is significant in traditional garments and rituals.
General culture: Because mountains and oceans form physical barriers between people groups, their unique heritages and traditions have been protected and preserved. The inhabitants of the eastern Indonesian islands are mostly of Melanesian decent and can be divided generally into two groups – the coastal people and the interior people. The people of the western islands fall into one of three groups: inland wetrice farmers (irrigated rice societies), coastal trading/farming/fishing people or inland societies of swidden agriculture – rotational farming where fields are cleared, cultivated and then left for several years to allow the soil to recover.
Music and Dance of Indonesia
The music and dance styles of Indonesia are also understandably diverse due to the number of insulated cultures. Many of the islands have their own expressions of art and traditions that are not well known by the Western world.
“Gamelan” is the most popular and famous style of Indonesian music. This music is performed by a percussion-based orchestra that usually features an ensemble of 50 to 80 instruments played by 12 to 15 musicians. The instruments include bells, gongs, drums, metallophones, spike fiddles and bamboo flutes. The music is intricate and intriguing.
The wide array of Indonesian dances come from several historical influences. Prior to contact with the outer world, tribes on the archipelago developed their own dances and rituals – often religious in nature. Later, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam became influential on the islands and brought their own dance styles.
One of the most unique Indonesian dances is “reog.” The dance relates the story of a lionlike creature known as “singo barong.” The dancer playing singo barong carries the large mask weighing up to 90 pounds (40 kilograms) with only his teeth. Meanwhile, 20 to 40 other brightly costumed dancers display their athleticism with lively, agile movements.
Food and Drink of Indonesia
Indonesia has the nickname “spice islands” for good reason. Its food is flavorful, vibrant and full of variety. While there is a diverse menu throughout the islands, the quintessential staple is without a doubt “nasi” (rice).
Nasi goreng, which translates literally as “fried rice,” is a popular Indonesian food and is used in many dishes. Originally, nasi goreng was a breakfast dish created to use up leftover rice. Refrying cooked rice kills any bacterial growth and makes it safe to eat again. Add some veggies, chicken, beef or seafood and you’ve got a yummy meal!
Indonesian satay is made from skewers of meat marinated in a spiced sauce. There are many variations on this dish featuring different meats and sauces. Originally sold by street vendors, satay has become a national dish and one of the most celebrated foods throughout Indonesia.
Nastar is a delicious pineapple cookie or tart. These sweet treats are often served on special occasions like Christmas. Learn to make them here!
Bandrek is a warm, spiced drink perfect for a chilly night in the highlands of an island. The Sundanese people of Java, Indonesia, make this hot beverage with cinnamon, ginger, palm sugar, cloves and lemon grass. There are many variations with ingredients like star anise, coriander seeds, chili peppers and coconut. A simmering pot of bandrek will warm you up and fill your house with an amazing aroma!
A Story From Indonesia: The Young Shopkeeper
One day in a mountain village on the island Papua, Indonesia, a boy named Petro made a bold decision. Petro, a Compassion beneficiary, had received some money, but instead of buying clothes or shoes, Petro bought fried sweet potatoes and started selling them to his friends.
Every morning Petro sold fried sweet potatoes to the children and adults in his village. That was the beginning of Petro’s business. He carefully saved his profits and soon had enough money to build a small grocery stall. Petro proposed the idea to his father, Kiwo, who was extremely supportive and proud of his creative son.
Soon after, Petro purchased wood beams, plywood, boards and a roof to build a stall. With Kiwo’s help, Petro constructed his very own shop.
A year after he began selling his first sweet potatoes, Petro’s stall was ready and packed with groceries: soft drinks, canned milk, sugar, cooking oil, canned fish, biscuit, candies, coffee, tea, instant noodles, peanuts, soap, detergent, shampoo and insect repellent.
Even when $300 was stolen from his shop during the night, Petro did not give up on his business. He managed to revive the shop and sell items that the thieves had not taken. Petro continues to imagine ways to grow his business and hopes to save enough to pay his own way through university.
BONUS: Fun Fact About Indonesia
The largest flower in the world is found in Indonesia. The corpse flower, or monster flower (Rafflesia arnoldii), weighs up to 24 pounds (11 kilograms) and measures 1 yard (1 meter) in diameter.
Photos of What Daily Life Is Like in Indonesia
Do you want to keep learning about the beautiful country of Indonesia?
Each week on the blog, we’re posting an article of facts about a different country where sponsored children live. Keep an eye out for the countries that interest you the most!