Facts About Indonesia: Unity in Diversity

Happy, smiling, laughing children, boys and girls, males, females run outside in the grass surrounded by tropical, palm trees wearing blue, yellow shirts, white shorts, blue and white dress.

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.

Bonus: Learn About Indonesian Christmas and “Pengucapan” (Indonesian Thanksgiving)!

Music and Dance of Indonesia

Teenage girls in costumes black shirts with gold and red sashes in the front of the parade to celebrate Christmas holiday.

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.

Petro is serving one of his customers who came to his green stall. The customers will usually order through the wire window. The items and change will be delivered through a small square hole.

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?

Facts About Compassion and 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!

21 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Beth Murphy March 14, 2021

    I am so happy that I was able to read and learn so much from this very interesting article regarding Indonesia! As someone else commented before me, it will help me stay connected and enhance the communication with my sponsored child, Avartha! Thank you ? so much for giving us sponsors this valuable information!
    Beth Murphy

  2. Miguel HARVEY October 22, 2020

    Muchísimas gracias por el material informativo sobre Indonesia. Realmente es una enorme diversidad de culturas, tanto como la cantidad de islas y gente que las habitan. Me encanta la frase del título: “unidad en la diversidad”. Lo que leí potencia mis deseos de viajar algún día, Dios mediante, para conocer a mi ahijada y algo de ese hermoso país.

    Dios los bendiga por el hermoso trabajo que hacen.

  3. Charlotte Myers September 12, 2020

    Thank you so much for this fact-filled article about Indonesia! It is so helpful knowing more about how Abram, my sponsored child, lives. I can now add more pertinent questions in my letters.

    1. Shayla September 14, 2020

      Hi Charlotte! I am so delighted that you enjoyed reading this article. I know Abram looks forward to your letters! -Shayla

  4. Don September 9, 2020

    We sponsor an 8 year old in Indonesia. I will have to ask her if she drinks bandrek. Thank you for all the interesting information.

  5. James E Doern September 9, 2020

    Its great to here those who come from tough times and find a way to take a single product and turn it into a small business. How wonderful that is. The Lord has really blessed that young man, and give him something to live for.


  6. Mary Jenkins September 9, 2020

    Thank you! This blog really helped me understand life for my two little Compassion children.

  7. Dianne Fegley September 9, 2020

    Thank you for sharing about my sponsorship to Cristine’s country. I now can include more questions for her in my letters.

    1. Shayla September 9, 2020

      Hi Dianne! I am so happy that you enjoyed our blog post. ?? -Shayla

  8. Dana Williams September 8, 2020

    So grateful for all you do for these children! Such a beautiful country! Love sewing and learning more about where Sky lives and his culture. Hope to visit one day!❤️?

    1. Shayla September 9, 2020

      Hi Dana! We pray that you are able to visit Sky one day and experience his culture. ?? -Shayla

  9. Cathryn September 8, 2020

    This was so wonderful to get a glimpse of this country. I’m really excited to bake Nastar with my son this week. We will have a taste of Indonesia in our sponsor Child’s honor…and then pray for him!

    1. Shayla September 9, 2020

      Hi Cathryn! I am so glad that you enjoyed learning a little more about Indonesia. I hope the Nastar that you make turns out delicious! ??

  10. Ilene Glatfelter September 8, 2020

    Thank you so much for sharing such valuable information about my child’s country. This type of information is excellent and helpful in corresponding. I am very excited about the next letter I will be writing her. Thank you for the opportunity and giving us the child we may be unable to have or no longer have at home. This is a wonderful program which directly supports children in need. Thank you.

    1. Shayla September 9, 2020

      Hi Ilene! We really appreciate your partnership to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name. I am so glad to hear that you enjoyed reading our blog post about the beauty of Indonesia. I’m sure she will appreciate the detail in your next letter! -Shayla

  11. Paula Horton September 8, 2020

    Thank you for this wonderful blog about Indonesia – my sponsored child is from there and it’s encouraging to see her surroundings, culture and environment. It helps to know what my sponsored child’s life is like through the pictures. Compassion is doing a wonderful thing by being present there to help spread the Truth of Christ and his amazing salvation, love and care for us. Thank you for all you do for these children throughout the world.

  12. Corinne Irwin September 8, 2020

    Thank you for sharing this blog. I loved reading about Indonesia and it has inspired me to find out more. My relationship with Stewart has been truly a blessing. I am so honored to be part of such a worthwhile cause. Keep up your great work.

  13. Steve Moore September 8, 2020

    Thank you for taking care of these little ones. ❤️

  14. Barbara Utrata September 8, 2020

    Thank you for this focus on Glen’s country. Very interesting & quite diverse. I appreciate learning about this part of our world.

  15. Steven Urner September 8, 2020

    I noticed that the little girl I sponsor, Martha, has a cleft lip. Is it possible to get that surgically corrected?

    1. Taryn September 8, 2020

      Hello Steven, thank you so much for the care you have for this precious child in poverty! Compassion is able to provide many children the necessary medical attention that they need. I do want to assure you that Martha is receiving any medical care that she needs as well. If you would like to give to help the children in our programs receive medical care, you may certainly do so at: https://www.compassion.com/medical-assistance.htm. If you have any other questions, could you please send us an email at [email protected]? Thank you! ?~Taryn

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