A Historical Perspective on Indonesia's Culture


Indonesia has always been a country with diverse cultures. After encountering several outside cultural influences in the past, Indonesia has experienced a level of acculturation. The country’s historical journey has molded its culture into what it is now. Some of the influences even made a significant impact and left a noticeable mark on Indonesia’s culture and can still be seen until today. But to understand more about the culture in Indonesia, learning about its history might be the place to start.

Hindu and Buddhist Era

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These two religions are thought to have entered Indonesia in the early centuries through trading activities. Hindu and Buddhist religions are easily accepted by Indonesians because of the same beliefs of animism and dynamism. In the 7th century, Indonesia was ruled by two kingdoms. The Hindu Mataram Kingdom and the Buddhist Sriwijaya Kingdom that constantly challenged each other. Because of these two kingdoms, the cultural impact on Indonesia was huge. Lots of Hindu and Buddhist architecture thrived in this era, such as magnificent temples. One of its famous temples is the Prambanan temple. This era's culture is depicted through ancient language written on stone slabs, rituals depicted on temple reliefs, and mesmerizing performing arts practices such as dances and music. Some of them still survive until now and can be enjoyed through some tourist attractions.

Islamic Era

Source: en.wikipedia.org

In the 11th Century, Islam started to enter Indonesia through the Silk Road, the famous sea trading route. Again, Islam is easily accepted by Indonesians and is growing rapidly, but not because of the same reason as Hindu and Buddhist. But because of how peaceful Islam is and how easy it is to convert to Islam. By the 13th century, Islam managed to overpower the Hindu Majapahit empire and sent them to Bali, which is now the most thriving Hindu region of Indonesia. As for the rest, Islam took over Indonesia with its Islamic based kingdoms. The most influential part of the Islamic Era is the Wali Songo, a group of Islamic Saints who spread Islam throughout the archipelago. This led to a lot of cultural change in Indonesia, but did not necessarily replace the old Hindu and Buddhist culture, but merged it. This acculturation can be seen in the architectural style of some old mosques that adopted the Hindus' building concept, with its overlapping triangular roof that symbolises Mount Mahameru.

Colonial Era

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This era began when Portugal found Ternate lands in search of spices. Portugal eventually broke Islam’s hold of Indonesia and tried to take over. But word got out about the spices and supported by the Gold, Gospel, Glory movement, the Dutch followed suit and even replaced Portugal's place in Indonesia. The Dutch claimed Indonesia and called it the Dutch East Indies. For 350 years, Indonesia was colonised by the dutch. During this colonisation, western cultures were introduced to Indonesia but mainly by force. The result of the colonisation for Indonesian culture is mostly on its architectural design and not much on the other cultural aspects. This mainly because colonisation brings a lot more about cities and administration knowledge than cultural influence.

Source: kebudayaan.kemdikbud.go.id

A lot of colonial architecture still stands to this day, and one design in particular is a mix between Indonesian and Dutch house design; the Indies House style. It combines western architectural elements and Indonesian attributes to accomodate the different lifestyle. After this era, Indonesia pretty much adopted many of the Dutch East Indies' regulations and city plan model.

Untouched Lands

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While there is a historical line of influences from the outside world, as mentioned, some Indonesian regions remain untouched. Isolated from anything and anyone besides their own community. This led to the development of their unique indigenous culture, thriving with their own beliefs. This is what made Indonesia an archipelagic nation; there are regions unreachable due to nature’s obstacles. This untouched havens are home to several indigenous tribes such as the Dayak tribe, Baduy Tribe, Mentawai Tribe, and many more.

Source: kebudayaan.kemdikbud.go.id

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