Peta IndonesiaIndonesia is the world’s 4th largest country, the largest archipelago in the world and home to 237.4 million inhabitants. Jakarta, the nation’s largest city is likewise its capital. Indonesia is composed of 17,500 islands, 2/3 of which is inhabited. Some 500 of these islands might disappear in the near future. Due to the number of islands, dotted by 150 volcanoes, the whole archipelago presents diversity not only in its cultural history but in its flora and fauna as well.

Now officially known as the Republic of Indonesia, the incumbent President is Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The republic celebrates its Independence Day on the 17th of August.

DEMOGRAPHICS, CULTURE AND LANGUAGE

Indonesia’s official language is Bahasa Indonesia but you are likely to encounter several other languages spoken here, including Javanese and English, while there is still a lingering minority that speak Dutch and about 700 other languages and dialects. Javanese is the most widely spoken local language and is also the biggest ethnic group in Indonesia. About 86% of the population are Muslims, although there are small groups of different faiths, including Protestants, Catholics and Hindus.

Indonesia is a culturally-rich nation, with its culture and art intertwined with its enduring traditions culled from the Portuguese and Dutch colonizers and the country’s religion. The principles that guide their life consist of mutual assistance (gotong royong) and consultations (musyawarah) to gain a consensus (mufakat). Although their legal system follows the old penal code of the Dutch, “adat” law is still very much enforced when it comes to resolving local disputes and giving equal rights to women.

It is fascinating to listen to ethnic Malays do impromptu and verbal poetry compositions called “pantun.” Traditional music in Bali and in East- and Central Java is “gamelan.” “Dangut” is usually accompanied by free style dancing while “keroncong” is influenced by Portugal. Music played with bamboo instruments, such as “angklung” and “degung” are popular in West Java while West Timor has “sasando” music.

Indonesia stages traditional dances from the Mahabharata and Ramayana epics of India. Its traditional dances are characterized by colorful and lavishly decorated costumes with intricate hand and feet movements. Indonesia’s diversity is also exemplified in “wayang kulit” (leather puppets), the shadow puppet theater popular in Bali and Java. West Java has “wayang golek,” using puppets made of bamboo.

Indian influence is seen in Indonesia’s traditional architecture, in the buildings built on stilts with huge saddle roofs. India, the Middle East, Europe, and China all have influenced the country’s cuisine, with meat and vegetables as some of the main ingredients while coconut milk and spices, like chilli dominate the flavors of its fish and chicken dishes. Steamed rice is served with every meal.

The design of Indonesian fabrics, including the hand woven ones with silver and gold threads, and the intricate Batik patterns distinguish the creative flair of Indonesian artisans, echoed in their woodcarvings, wood and stone sculptures, filigree and silverwork.

SOME FUN FACTS

Indonesia is home to the Komodo dragon, 6,000 species of orchids including the very rare black orchid, the largest flower, Rafflesia Arnoldi, the Python Reticulates, the longest snake in the world, and the smallest fish, Paedocypris progenetica. It has 150 species of sharks inhabiting its waters, the largest mangrove forest and is the largest supplier of liquefied gas, plywood, and nutmeg and cloves. Likewise it is the richest in the world based on the extent of its coral reefs.

Indonesia is the source of the most expensive coffee in the world, Luwak Coffee (Civet Coffee). It is also a major supplier of frogs’ legs, exporting 3,000 tons of this delicacy to France annually.

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