Intertwined with religion and age-old traditions from the time of early migrants the art and culture of Indonesia is rich in itself with Western thoughts brought by Portuguese traders and Dutch colonists. The art and culture of Indonesia has been shaped around its hundreds of ethnic groups, each with cultural differences that have shifted over the centuries. Modern-day Indonesian culture is a fusion of cultural aspects from Arabic, Chinese, Malay and European sources. Indonesian art and culture has also been influenced from the ancient trading routes between the Far East and the Middle East leading to many cultural practices being strongly influenced by a multitude of religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Islam.
The official language of Indonesia is 'Indonesian' or 'Bahasa Indonesia'. It's universally taught in schools and is spoken by nearly every Indonesian in business, politics, national media, education and academia. The Indonesians also speak several hundreds of local languages like 'bahasa daerah' as their first language. Javanese is also widely used besides other Papuan or Austronesian languages in a region of just 2.7 million people.
The government of Indonesia officially recognizes only six religions, viz Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Protestantism, Catholicism, and Confucianism. The largest religious group in Indonesia is Islam with almost 86% of Indonesians being Muslims. Indonesia is also the most populous Muslim-majority nation in the world.
Indonesia has created many internationally famous celebrated authors. There has also been a long tradition, particularly among ethnically Malay populations, of impromptu, interactive, verbal composition of poetry referred to as the 'pantun'. Pramoedya Ananta Toer, a well-known author won the Magsaysay Award and was considered for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Chairil Anwar was also an important figure in the literature world and a member of the Generation 45 group of authors who were active in the Indonesian independence movement.
Home to hundreds of forms of music, it plays an important role in Indonesia's art and culture. Traces of its origin can be made to the islands of Java, Sumatra and Bali. 'Gamelan' is the traditional music from Central- and East Java and Bali. Another very popular style of music is 'Dangdut' which is accompanied with free dance style. This style first came up in the 1970s and is quite useful in political campaigns. Other forms of music include the Keroncong with its roots in Portugal, the soft Sasando music from West Timor and Degung and Angklung from West Java, which is played with bamboo instruments.
The traditional dances depict episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata from India. Traditional Javanese and Balinese tinge is also seen in the dance forms of Indonesian art and culture. The highly stylized dances of the courts of Yogyakarta and Surakarta are some of the popular variations. Mythological events of Indonesia are also depicted.
Drama and Theatre:
The Javanese and Balinese shadow puppet theatre shows 'wayang kulit' displaying several mythological events. A traditional folk theatre, Randai of the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra, is performed during ceremonies and festivals. Music, singing, dance, drama and the silat martial art are all incorporated together and are based on the stories of the legend.
Indonesian culture, especially its architecture has been to a great extent dominated and influenced by the Indian, although European influences have also been particularly strong since the nineteenth century. Traditional buildings in Indonesia are built on stilts with oversized saddle roofs which have been the home of the Batak and the Toraja. The Torajan use the buffalo horns, stacked one above another in front of the house as an indication of status. Scenes from the Ramayana adorn the outer walls in different colors. However, Chinese, Arab, and European architectural influences have also been quite significant in Indonesian architecture.
The arts of Indonesia are many, especially Indonesian paintings which are unique works of art. The intricate and expressive Balinese paintings are quite famous and often express natural scenes and themes from the traditional dances. A long-standing tradition of sculpture can also be seen in the art and culture of Indonesia, some dating back to the Bronze and Iron Ages. Examples of sculpture illustrating the story of the life of Buddha can be seen in the temples of the 8th and the 10th century. Indonesia's art and culture is also famous for their unique batik, ikat and songket cloth which is even popular today.
Indonesians distinctive cuisine has been derived from centuries with the influence of the Chinese, European, Middle Eastern and the Indians. The staple food of most Indonesian dishes is rice served with meat and vegetables. Flavors of Vietnamese and Thai food can also be got from the cuisine of Indonesia. Spices, notably chili, and coconut milk are fundamental ingredients in most of the dishes, especially fish and chicken.