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  Background to Indonesia

Indonesia is a huge country. More than 240 million people live there. It has thousands of islands, the largest being Java, Sumatra, Borneo and Sulawesi. It is best known to Australians for Bali, and all that goes with that. There are as you can imagine hundreds if not thousands of places to visit in Indonesia, I can tell you only about the few that I have been to lately.

Indonesia has around 300 ethnic groups each with cultural differences which have shifted over the centuries. Many areas are a mixture of Hindu, Javanese, Arabic, Chinese, Malay and Chinese culture. The European influences can be seen clearly in many of the Dutch style buildings in the government areas and even some Japanese styles and ideas left over from their occupation in WWII. Many Indonesians, particularly those in Sumatra harbor great hatred for the Japanese as result of the wartime atrocities inflicted there.

A good summary of Indonesian culture can be found on Wikipedia.

Currently television and radio are the most common forms of culture, but I am certain that every Indonesian, particularly the Sumatrans can sing and sing well.

Indonesia is a predominately Muslim country, in particular it is a Sunni Muslim country, where Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism are the other major religions. Indonesia’s form of Islam is very different to the Sunni and Shi’ite Islams practiced in the Middle East, it is close but different again to that practiced in Malaysia or even Singapore.

Indonesian Islam is still cloaked in many layers of superstition and you are more likely to find the locals seeking advice from a type of witch doctor as they are from the Imam. In some places the Imam plays both roles. Apparently this has a lot to do with the influence of the Hindu's and the Sufi’s in Indonesian religious development.

Belief in natural medicines (home made) and ceremonies performed to appeal to superstition are widely practiced.

So it is not possible to understand the practice of Islam or the way in which people in Indonesia live their lives by merely referring to them as Muslim, it's far more complicated and interesting than that. Long time expats often say that the more you know about Indonesia the less you understand it and the people. I think those that take the time to learn the basic tenets of Islam and the way in which it is practiced in Indonesia will come closer to understanding these very hospitable, friendly, interesting people. We in the west can learn a lot about tolerance from them. Of course in all cultures there are malcontents and extremists. Those of us who grew up in the 60’s & 70’s will remember that it is only in our lifetime that Colonialism and the last vestiges of slavery were partly overcome in Australia, South Africa and even the “Land of the Free” where Blacks rode in the back of the bus, went to separate schools and drank water from different taps. So lets remember our own past before we point a sanctimonious finger at others.

The major cities in Indonesia are Jakarta, Surabaya, Medan, Jogjakarta, Bandung, Bali is not a city but an island, Denpassar is the main city in Bali, but it's only a short distance from Kuta.

There is a very high level of education in Indonesia and many young people can speak or at least understand English to a good level.

Indonesians are polite shy people who are kind and generous, you will never go hungry or thirsty in Indonesia, they would feel great shame if you complained that you were not offered a glass of water or a meal, indeed you will most often be asked if you have taken your breakfast, lunch or dinner, and to say no is to be fed!

Reciprocation is not required as the gesture of the offer or the giving is reward enough, enjoy their hospitality, you will be a better person for it.

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