Indonesia is populated by diverse ethnic groups, with multiple cultures and languages!

Posted by ecostinger on 16th Sep 2018

Territorial discontinuity is a constant feature of the Indonesian territory that is made up of land that is emerged, interrupted or connected by the sea. At the center of this island system, an island of medium size (132 000 km² and 6% of the territory) has always occupied a privileged position: Java, which today occupies more than half of the Indonesian population.

Ethnic fragmentation

Like its territorial fragmentation, Indonesia is populated by diverse ethnic groups, with multiple cultures and languages. The long-established human groups in the archipelago are three large unequal families: Austronesians, Papuans and Chinese.

Among Austronesians, Javanese (Java) are the largest group, accounting for almost 40% of the total population or more than 43 million. Because of their hegemony, the Javanese provoke a certain hostility on the part of the other ethnic groups of the archipelago; they are often perceived as paternalistic, populist and sometimes anti-Islamist. They are also accused of " feudalism " because they would impose a highly hierarchical model not only among other ethnicities, but also within their own community. After the Javanese, the largest group is that of the Soundanais(East Java) with nearly 30 million members; the Soundanais have a culture close to that of the Javanese, but in less hierarchical and more muslim.

Outside of Java, no ethnic group reaches the 10 million members, except for the Madurese living in Java and also in Bali (13 million). These include the Minangkabau of Sumatra (8.2 million), the Malays of the Kalimantan Coast (7 million), the Bouguinese of Celebes (3.8 million), the Balinese of Bali (3.7 million), the Acihais of Aceh (3.5 million), the Banjar of Kalimantan (3 million), the Sasak of Nusa Tenggara (2.8 million), the Makassar of Celebes (2.2 million), the Bataks of Sumatra (2 millions), etc.

Two other ethnic groups deserve to be highlighted. Chinese or Sino-Indonesian and Papuans. Among Sino-Indonesians , there are Chinese min, Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese Chinese. Despite their often ancient presence (beginning of the Christian era) in Indonesia, the Chinese continue to be perceived as foreigners; most Chinese live from commerce.

On the island of New Guinea (West Papua) and North Halmahera Island, as well as in an important section of the island of Timor, there are Papuans . Papuans are over a million in West Papua. Papuans are a very different people from Austronesians because of their distinct origins, their many languages and cultures. A whole civilization opposes the Papuans and Austronesians of Indonesia.

Indonesian languages

Indonesia has officially 583 languages and dialects, but in reality there are more than 700 languages, and none of these languages is numerically majority in relation to the total population, a consequence of linguistic fragmentation due to the insularity of the country (some 13,700 islands). Except for the Papuan languages of West Papua (formerly Irian Jaya), some immigrant languages such as Chinese and Arabic as the language of the Koran, all languages spoken in Indonesia belong to the group of Malayo-Polynesian languages. of the Western groupofthe Austronesian family .

The Bahasa Indonesia or Indonesian

The official language is Bahasa Indonesia , which means "Indonesian language" or simply "Indonesian" . The word Bahasa comes from Sanskrit and means "language" . It is astandardized and formalized variety of Malay . This language was developed in the manner of Esperanto, so simple and in principle with few exceptions, from different Indonesian dialects. It is a language close to all varieties of Indonesian languages and not belonging to any particular group. It is therefore a language considered as "neutral" for all Indonesian languages. The term bahasa indonesiawas invented by young Indonesian nationalists in the aftermath of independence to dissociate spoken Malay by the majority of speakers living in Jakarta, the national capital. Since Bahasa Indonesia was not associated with a particular ethnic group, this linguistic variety served to symbolize national unity. Given the great linguistic diversity of the country, the official Indonesian can overcome the barriers of misunderstanding. Moreover, it is the only language of communications, practicable from one end to the other of the archipelago.

- Malay

Malay is also the official language of three neighboring states: Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia. Indonesia is also part of this great Malay language group. This is why Bahasa Malaysia , Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Brunei are generally distinguished . However, the Malay spoken in Indonesia is slightly different, especially in the lexicon. There is also talk of the North Malay (in Peninsular Malaysia) and South Malaysia (Borneo and Indonesia)

It is historical reasons that explain these differences between the two major varieties of Malay: Indonesia and Malaysia. Indonesia has been colonized by the Dutch; Malaysia, by the British. While Indonesian Malay was influenced by Dutch, Malaysian Malay was influenced by English. Malay has traditionally been written with the Arabic alphabet, but the writing was Latinized in the seventies; this writing remains phonetic, especially since the spelling reform of 1972, which modified the forms based on the Dutch language (as the [tj] for the sound [ch]). It was also necessary to develop a standard common to both major varieties of Malay. The official language standard, defined by the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (or Council of Language and Writing), has been accepted by Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei; it is the so-called Bahasa Riau varietythat is, the language of the Riau archipelago (facing Singapore), which is considered "the cradle of Malay". In spite of differences, mutual understanding remains easy between varieties of Malay (like the Anglo-American and the Anglo-British).

- Loans to other languages

The lexical collection of Indonesian Malay rests in Indonesian languages and reflects its origin of the language of the sea and the land (agriculture). This is why the maritime and agrarian vocabulary is very rich and contains an abundant set of proverbs and aphorisms that draw on these two sources.

As for the foreign contributions, they retrace the history of the many contacts of the archipelago with the outside world. Indonesian borrowed a large amount of words (about 40% of the total) from other Indonesian languages, especially Javanese, Sundanese and Minangkabau. Loans to Sanskrit Indians are estimated at about 1300 words; Arabic would have transmitted 24000 words; Portuguese, 150 words; Tamil, 70; Chinese a good hundred; English, 1700. But Dutch would have given no less than 10,000 words, which is considerable. To this list should be added several other languages that have enriched the lexicon of Indonesian: Persian, Hindi, Bengali, Japanese, Latin and French.

The speakers of the national language

The case of Indonesia is one of the most interesting in terms of language planning: a national minority language assimilates other languages with the consent of most speakers. Today, it is estimated that three-quarters of Indonesians, or 166 million, speak Indonesian Malay as a second language, which means that most Indonesians are bilingual; they speak their local language and Indonesian. It is the language of the Administration and the media. The members of the more educated classes are generally trilingual: the national language, the regional language and a foreign language (often English).

However, the official Indonesian language differs from that used by the general population. One distinguishes the "language of the bazaar" or "simplified language" from the more formal one of the Administration, of a more delicate handling. When Indonesian seems insufficient to designate new technological realities, lexicographers use English or neologisms developed by a commission in charge of linguistic questions.

The official census of 1990 reveals that 12.1% of Indonesians speak Indonesian as their mother tongue, 70.7% as a second language and 17.2% totally ignore the national language. By adding children under five, who did not answer the census questionnaire and who do not have Indonesian as mother tongue, it can be assumed that the number of non-Indonesian speakers would reach 44 million, or 25%. of the total population.

However, the details of the 1990 census need to be further analyzed to find out what is happening with the speakers of the national language. Mr. Jérôme Samuel ( 2005 ) presents a table ( click HERE, please) illustrating Indonesian spoken according to different regions of Indonesia. Thus, the special region of Jakarta is 63% Indonesian; the province of North Sulawesi is 45.8% Indonesian; North Sumatra, 35.5%; East Kalimantan, 26.3%; Sulawesi Center, 22.7%; Moluccas, 18.9%; Riau, 14.8%; West Java, 13%; Southeast Sulawesi, 12.9%; Nusa Tenggara East, 12%. These provinces contain an indonesiaphone rate greater than or equal to the national average of 21.1%. The special region of Jakarta is the most Indonesian of the country with a rate of 63% of speakers; more than 93% of the inhabitants of this region use Indonesian as a lingua franca. Indonesian seems to be an essentially urban language because 73, 6% of its speakers live in cities. In contrast, only 6.8% of non-Indonesian speakers in cities are counted.

The linguistic variants

We have mentioned previously that it is customary to distinguish between Northern Malay (Malaysian Malay) and Southern Malay (Borneo, Bunei and Indonesia), more commonly known as Indonesian.

However, the Southern variant can in turn be divided into two major linguistic eras: Western Indonesian and East Indonesian. The western Indonesia is mostly spoken in the islands of Sumatra, Kalimantan, Java, Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa and South Celebes (Sulawesi). Eastern Indonesian is spoken in the North Sulawesi (Sulawesi), Ambon Island, Maluku Islands, Flores Island, Timor Island and Papua. Each of these variants is characterized by slightly different accents, intonations and a number of lexical differences.

In writing, the variants fade, since standardization has imposed a unique form of writing. Only lexical variants can identify the geographical origin of a writing.

- The Sanskrit

Sanskrit continues to be used in the development of technologies to replace words of foreign origin. In general, Indonesians use Sanskrit for the names of their children or to Indonesianize Chinese words, to designate buildings or to create social reasons for businesses and businesses. It is in Sanskrit that the sacred currency of the Armed Forces, the official decorations, sometimes the public buildings, the halls of parliament, etc. are formulated. In short, Sanskrit retains great prestige, despite the protests of Indonesian nationalists who claim respect for the primacy of Indonesian.

- English

Although the Indonesian official is well established in the country, the upper middle class also use the English language. Either Indonesians speak it as a foreign language or they dot their speeches with English words. It is thus possible to distinguish an Indonesian enamelled with Anglicisms and reserved for the elite, as well as an Indonesian without Anglicism and used to communicate with "the people". Newspapers and the press in general introduce into the language many Anglicisms (Americanisms) and help spread those who are employed by the elite. Advertising does the same by using a large amount of English words.

However, in 1995, the Indonesian state declared illegal English names in the creation of names for public use, while Indonesian is mandatory in the designation of businesses, real estate and toponyms. Paradoxically, since 1997, the dubbing of American films in Indonesian is prohibited in favor of subtitling in Indonesian. The aim was to prevent viewers or viewers from being too influenced by Indonesian-speaking characters and thus convey external values.

More recently, in 2007, a linguistic bill, with nine chapters and 32 articles, was presented to the Parliament so that Indonesian has a preference for foreign languages in politics, administration, education and journalism. and business.

In short, many Indonesians, who are part of the elite, resort to Anglicism while recommending the defense of the Indonesian language. Some people criticize these otherwise influential individuals for unconsciously reproducing the colonial model that reserved for Europeans or assimilated the language of the colonials. This is obviously a way for the Indonesian elite to distinguish themselves from the people. However, in general, Indonesians do not speak English easily as they do not have an Anglicist tradition like the Malaysians and Filipinos.


There are fewer religions in Indonesia than ethnic groups and languages. In fact, Islam is practiced by more than 85% of the Indonesian population; so this is the largest Muslim country in the world, demonstrating that the are all Muslims are not Arabic speakers . However, Javanese practice a very particular Islam, sometimes called the "religion of Java" or the"Javanisme". The followers of Javanism mix with their Islam values and practices of an old Javanese cultural fund (with a mixture of animism and Buddhist and Hindu themes) and generally perceived as unorthodox by Orthodox Muslims. This is why Javanese are often considered "false Muslims", even anti-Islamists, although most followers of Javanism declare themselves Muslims.

Among the other religious groups, there are more than 17 million Christians, including Protestants (6.5% of the population) and Catholics (3.1%). Protestant communities are mainly present among Bataks, Papuans and Dayaks, while Catholics are prevalent in Timor Island and Flores Island. Indonesia has more than 1.5 million Buddhists, most of whom are Chinese, but many Sino-Indonesians are Protestant or Confucian. As for Hinduism, it remained very present especially on the island of Bali. In short, Indonesia has a very diverse population, both in terms of languages, cultures and religions.

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