By Shereen Shabnam
With over 300 ethnic groups speaking 700 languages on more than 17,000 inhabited islands, the Indonesian archipelago is a showcase of cultural diversity. People from all walks of life come from far and near to appreciate Indonesia’s many cultural sites and activities. Last Christmas, I made my first journey into Indonesia and came back enlightened and rejuvenated.
Indonesia is centrally located along ancient trading routes between the Far East, South Asia and the Middle East, so the culture is strongly influenced by a multitude of religions. One finds out that Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam and Christianity are all strong in the major trading cities. The result is a complex cultural mixture very different from the original indigenous cultures of the country.
My favourite are memories from Bali. The Balinese dances have stories about ancient Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms, while Islamic art forms and architecture are present in Sumatra. Traditional art, music and sport are combined in a martial art form called Pencak Silat which I found had a lot of similarities to what I saw in Malaysia.
Despite the influences of foreign culture, some remote Indonesian regions still preserve uniquely indigenous culture. For instance, indigenous ethnic groups Mentawai, Asmat, Dani, Dayak, Toraja and many others are still practicing their ethnic rituals, customs and wearing traditional clothes.
If you like art or artistic furniture, the cottage wood carving industry of Bali finds a wide domestic and international market. Perhaps the most common carving is in the urban furniture industry, mainly in Java, where ornately carved sofas and chairs are very popular.
Living in Asia also introduced us to many art forms. Traditional puppet or animal carvings of the mountain Batak of Sumatra or the upriver Dayak of Kalimantan are now mainly for tourists, though they once showed rich artistry (now largely seen in museums).
Indonesian textiles are becoming more widely known overseas. Batik is the Javanese word for “dot” or “stipple”. Batik textiles were made in royal courts and cottages, but also became a major commercial industry in Java and Bali, an industry that has experienced economic vicissitudes over the decades.
Performance arts are diverse and include: Javanese and Balinese gong-chime orchestras (gamelan) and shadow plays (wayang ), Sundanese bamboo orchestras (angklung), Muslim orchestral music at family events or Muslim holiday celebrations, trance dances (reog) from east Java, the dramatic barong dance or the monkey dances for tourists on Bali.
All such arts use indigenously produced costumes and musical instruments, of which the Balinese barong costumes and the metalworking of the gamelan orchestra are the most complex. Bali is best known for the diversity of its performance arts. Despite the fact that Bali draws visitors from around the world, and its troupes perform overseas, most Balinese performers are villagers for whom art complements farming.
For those who love the city environment, tourism activities in Indonesia includes shopping, sightseeing in big cities, or enjoying modern amusement parks, resorts, spas, nightlife and entertainment. To some extent urban tourism might also involving municipal culture and heritage tourism, such as visits to city museums or parts of colonial old town.
If you have kids, the Ancol Dreamland with Dunia Fantasi theme park and Atlantis Water Adventure is Jakarta’s answer to Disneyland-style amusement park and Water Park. Several similar theme parks also developed in other cities, such as Trans Studio Makassar in South Sulawesi and Trans Studio Bandung, West Java.
In Jakarta, shopping and spending the whole day in malls is entertainment. The malls offer everything from large department stores, luxury boutiques, supermarket, gym, upmarket restaurants, food centers, cafes, bookshops, kids playground, beauty salons, to cinemas.
For Indonesian handicrafts, best places are Sarinah Departement Store, Batik Keris, Pasaraya Grande, Sarinah, or Grand Indonesia Plaza. Here you will find a complete collection of batiks, ikats, silverware, woodcarving and more. UKM Gallery at Gatot Subroto is another handicraft center.
Jakarta has indeed everything and anything you might just be looking for. Also If you are looking something else in Jakarta besides shopping, you can take a city tour around Jakarta. This city tour will take you one day long. Have a great travel and discover more about Indonesia.