There is something cooking in Indonesia, and we’re not talking about food. This hotpot of a nation is home to around 238 million people, hundreds of indigenous tribes and ethnic groups, and six religious faiths, all working to keep the string of more than 17,000 islands unbroken.
The country once known as the Dutch East Indies might be at the fringes of Asia, but it ziplines across the equator, covering nearly 5,000 kilometers of fertile plains, verdant forests, feisty volcanoes, and azure seas. This sun-kissed archipelago, which sits on top of Australia, is the 16th largest country in the world.
Bahasa is the country’s official language. It is spoken by nearly everyone despite the presence of 700 living dialects across the archipelago.
English, too, is widely used not only in cities but also in tourist areas. For a country that receives more than six million visitors a year, speaking to Western guests in their language is definitely a sound choice than showing an awkward smile and a subtle retreat of the feet.
Religious tolerance forms the core philosophy of Indonesian society. While Islam is widely practiced by 86% of the population, only the islands of Sumatra and Java are considered the heartlands of Islam. Pockets of Hinduism, Christianity, and Buddhism still thrive in the islands of Bali, West Papua, and Riau Province in Sumatra.
Religious violence, which was once infamous the world over, is increasingly becoming less of a concern. Thanks to Indonesia’s strong democratic traditions, forms of extremism are replaced by moderate ideals. Indonesia’s national ideology, the Pancasila, speaks of a union that goes beyond one’s faith or ethnic group.
The Indonesians are a proud and noble people. Despite being under the Dutch for many centuries, the Indonesians were able to preserve their culture, which they now share to the world.
From the Batik cloth of Java to the Wayang puppets of Bali to the Toraja wood carvings of Sulawesi, Indonesians’ artistic expressions can look as if they had come from different people. But when their artistic elements are put together, like in a stage play or theater, they form a sophisticated and united picture of the people behind the performance.
A nation sprinkled with so much diversity, culture, and natural beauty – that is Indonesia, the archipelago that is best appreciated not only in its bits and pieces but in the sum of its whole.