The following 2 posts spotlight interesting cultural elements of a trip to Indonesia. This particular post provides quick, simple, useful answers to questions commonly asked by travelers. Part 2 will introduce us to the Moni people, from the perspective of an expat who grew up in Moni land.
Capital City of Indonesia: Jakarta
Capital City of Papua: Jayapura
Languages of Indonesia: Bahasa Indonesia, English (major cities)
Languages of Papua: 300+ tribal languages
Religions: 6 formally recognized world religions and other traditional faiths
Indonesia at a Glance
The word “Indonesia” originates from the Greek words “Indos,” meaning “India,” and “Nesos,” meaning “island,” together literally meaning “Islands of India.” 17,508 islands exist in the archipelago, stretching for 3,200 miles (5,510 kilometers) between Australia and the Asian Continent. These islands, 6,000 of which are occupied, divide the Pacific and Indian Oceans along the equatorial line. Indonesia has 400 volcanoes, 100 of which are active.
Papua at a Glance
Papua is the largest province of Indonesia, comprising a majority of the western half of the island of New Guinea and nearby islands. The provincial capital is Jayapura, located high on a hill overlooking the sea to the north. Papua is a land of contrasts, with some of the thickest jungles lowland in the world, rugged snow-capped mountain peaks, beautiful sandy beaches, huge stretches of marshlands, and deep river gorges carved through dense forests.
Climate and Weather
Indonesia’s monsoon-type climate changes approximately every six months, although, in recent years, global warming has somewhat disrupted weather patterns. In Papua, regardless of the time of year, the rain is part of the rainforest.
Due to the large number of islands and mountains in Indonesia, temperatures vary. Along the coastal plains, the average is 82°F (28°C); for inland and mountain areas, it is 79°F (26°C); and, in the higher mountain areas, the average is around 73°F (23°C). Like other tropical countries, Indonesia has a high average relative humidity, usually between 73 and 87 percent.
Flora and Fauna
Within the Indonesian archipelago lies one of the most remarkable zoological zones on the planet. Home of the most diverse flora and fauna in the world, Indonesia has 10 percent of all flowering plant species, 12 percent of mammal species, 17 percent of bird species and 25 percent of the world’s species of fish.
Indonesia has three time zones—Western Indonesia Time which is GMT +7 (covering Sumatra, Java, Madura, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan), Central Indonesia Time which is GMT +8 (covering East and South Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Bali, Nusa Tenggara) and the last is Eastern Indonesia Time which is GMT +9 (covering Maluku and Papua).
The capital Jakarta is GMT +7 or 16 hours ahead of US Pacific Standard Time.
Some 300 ethnic groups call Indonesia home, but most (45 percent) of Indonesians are Javanese. In addition, 14 percent are Sundanese, 7.5 percent Madurese, 7.5 percent coastal Malays, and 26 percent are of other ethnic groups.
There are more than 700 languages and dialects spoken in the archipelago. They normally belong to the different ethnic groups of the population. Some of the distinctly different local languages are: Acehnese, Batak, Sundanese, Javanese, Sasak, Tetum of Timor, Dayak, Minahasa, Toraja, Buginese, Halmahera, Ambonese, Ceramese, and several Irianese languages. To make the picture even more colorful, these languages are also spoken in different dialects.
Bahasa Indonesia is the national language. It is similar to Malay and written in Roman script based on European orthography. English is the most prevalent foreign language. Also, some Dutch is still spoken and understood in the bigger cities and French increasing in its popularity at the better hotels and restaurants.
The Indonesian national flag is called Sang Saka Merah Putih or “the red and white treasure.” As provided for in Article 35 of the 1945 Constitution, the flag is made up of two colors, red on top of white. By law, its width must be two-thirds of the length.
Like the country’s coat of arms, its flag is also symbolic. The flag’s red stripe represents bravery, and its white stripe stands for spirituality.
Indonesia’s official coat of arms is centered on the Garuda, and ancient, mythical bird from the country’s historical epics. Like the Bald Eagle in the United States, the Garuda is often used to represent Indonesia.
A great deal of symbolism runs through the Garuda. The eagle is a symbol of creative energy. Its principal color, gold, symbolizes the greatness of the nation. The black color represents nature. There are 17 feathers on each wing, 8 on the tail and 45 on the neck. These numbers stand for the date Indonesia proclaimed its independence: 17 August 1945. The shield symbolizes self-defense and protection in struggle. The five symbols on the shield represent the state philosophy of Pancasila. The motto Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (“Unity in Diversity”) is enshrined on a banner held in the eagle’s talons, signifying the unity of the Indonesian people despite their diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
Traditions, Customs & Considerations
- Even though hand shaking is deemed appropriate between men and women, bear in mind that a number of Muslim women prefer to introduce themselves to men by nodding their head, smiling, and clasping their hands without any physical contact.
- Traditionally, when you greet someone, both hands are used when shaking, without grasping.
- It is considered polite to make a phone call first before visiting.
- Shoes must be taken off before entering a house or place of worship like mosques.
- Usually drinks are offered to guests. It is polite to accept.
- When eating, receiving or giving something, always use your right hand.
- Your right index finger should not be used to point a place, items or people. Use the right hand thumb and fold the remaining fingers to be more polite.
- Taking photographs of houses of worships is allowed, however permission should be asked first whenever possible, especially if you want to take pictures of the interior.
- Most Indonesian Muslims do not consume alcoholic drinks and pork. Hence, the tradition of proposing a toast to honor someone is not generally known.
- Skimpy clothing in public areas, save from beaches and pools, might warrant unwanted attention.
Fun stuff! Enjoy!