by Eveline Yang
The Republic of Indonesia is located in Southeast Asia, on an archipelago of more than 17,508 islands near the equator. The total land area is 782,665 square miles, and the sea area covers 1,222,466 square miles; altogether, the nation is approximately the size of Mexico. The name Indonesia is coined from Greek: indos, India and nesos, islands.
Indonesia consists of an array of island stepping-stones scattered in the sea between the Malay Peninsula and Australia, astride the equator and spanning about an eighth of the world's circumference. By comparison, the continental United States stretches across about a sixth of the world's circumference. The islands and island groups consist of a Pacific set and an Indian Ocean set. The Indian Ocean islands are Sumatra, Java, Bali, and the Lesser Sundas, or, in Indonesian, Sumatera, Djawa, Bali, and Nusa Tenggara. The Pacific Ocean Islands are Borneo, Celebes, and the Moluccas, or Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Malukus.
Indonesia's climate may be described as tropical, though land temperatures and rainfall vary considerably according to altitude and relative exposure to winds sweeping in from the ocean. On the whole, temperatures vary little at any one place, and rainfall is generally heavy.
By the fifteenth century, when the Renaissance was just pulling Europe from the Middle Ages, the islands of Java and Sumatra already had a thousand-year heritage of advanced civilization, spanning two major empires. From the seventh to the fourteenth century, the Buddhist kingdom of Srivijaya flourished on Sumatra. At its peak, the Srivijaya Empire reached as far as west Java and the Malay Peninsula. By the fourteenth century, the Hindu kingdom of Majapahit had risen in eastern Java. Gadjah Mada, the chief minister who ruled the empire from 1331 to 1364, succeeded in gaining allegiance from most of what is now known as modern Indonesia and much of the Malay archipelago as well.
Islam arrived in Indonesia in the twelfth century and had almost wholly supplanted Hinduism as the dominant religion in Java and Sumatra by the end of the sixteenth century. The island of Bali, however, has retained its Hindu heritage to this day. In the eastern archipelago, both Christian and Islamic proselytizing took place in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; currently, there are large communities of both religions on these islands.
Beginning in the early seventeenth century, Indonesia's many kingdoms had become fragmented and the Dutch gradually established themselves on almost all of the islands of present-day Indonesia, controlling the islands' social, political, and economic institutions. The eastern half of the island of Timor was likewise occupied by the Portuguese until 1975. During the 300-year Dutch rule, the region then known as Netherlands East Indies became one of the world's richest colonial territories.
Much of Indonesia's history in the modern era revolves around Sukarno (born Kusnasosro; 1901-1979). The Indonesian independence movement began during the first decade of the twentieth century and continued throughout both World Wars. The Japanese occupied Indonesia for three years during World War II. On August 17, 1945, after Japan had agreed to surrender to the Allied Powers, Sukarno and other nationalists declared national independence and established the Republic of Indonesia. Despite several attempts, the Dutch failed to recapture the territory lost to Japan. The victory over the Dutch strengthened Indonesia's sense of national identity and its citizens' belief in nationalism. In 1950 Indonesia became a member of the United Nations.
During the following decade, Sukarno revised the 1945 Constitution and became the President for Life. The Sukarno government badly mismanaged Indonesia's economy; the government seized foreign-owned plantations but did not train people to operate them, and consequently, economic conditions worsened.
The Communist Party began to grow during the early 1960s, with Sukarno's encouragement. In 1965 a group of Indonesian army officers seized power by killing six generals and other officers. This event precipitated more bloodshed as the Indonesian army and civilian mobs later killed between 200,000 and 300,000 people throughout Indonesia. Some of those killed were not Communists, but foreigners who had once controlled a great portion of the Indonesian economy. Shortly thereafter, Lieutenant General Suharto rose to power, outlawed the Communist Party, and reorganized the government. In 1968 Suharto was elected president and has been the head of the state ever since.
The population of the Republic of Indonesia, according to the 1990 census, is 180 million, which makes it the fourth most populous country in the world. The national motto is Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, which means "Unity in Diversity," a phrase that captures the people's strong national allegiance despite the variety of ethnicities and cultures.
The physical, cultural, and linguistic diversity of the Indonesian people reflects their country's past history and prehistory. At first, groups of people from the Asian mainland moved southeastward to the islands. Later groups, culturally more advanced than their predecessors, arrived to absorb the earlier immigrants or displace them, pushing them to remoter islands or less favorable habitats. By the early 1990s, Indonesia's society was divided into more than 300 ethnic groups, the largest of which was the Javanese, at 45 percent of the total population. Other groups include the Sundanese (14 percent), followed by the Madurese (7.5 percent), and the coastal Malays (7.5 percent).
Most of those who choose to leave their country for other countries, including the United States, are from larger urban cities on Java. An ethnic group noted for their diverse cultural and religious backgrounds and geographical origins, Indonesians who live in the United States split their affection and loyalty between their newfound country and whatever part of their homeland they or their ancestors once inhabited.
IMMIGRATION TO THE UNITED STATES
Few Indonesians immigrated to the United States prior to the 1950s. In the mid-1950s many Indonesian students came to the United States to study at American universities and colleges. In 1953 the ICA (now USAID) started providing scholarships for medical faculty members of the University of Indonesia to study at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1956 the ICA likewise provided scholarships for the teaching staff of the Bandung Institute of Technology to study at the University of Kentucky.
In the 1960s, when a number of political and ethnic skirmishes arose in Indonesia, several thousand Indonesians, the majority of whom were Chinese Indonesian, came to the United States. This immigration wave was short lived, however, due to the rapid reestablishment of peace in Indonesia and the limitations imposed by U.S. immigration quotas. More recent Indonesian immigrants have come to the United States for economic and educational reasons.
Overall, the number of Indonesians entering the United States is relatively low when compared to Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino immigration figures. According to the 1990 census, of the 6,876,394 Asians residing in the United States, only 30,085 (0.4 percent) are Indonesian Americans or Indonesians residing in the United States. The majority of Indonesian Americans reside in such large cities as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, New York, and Chicago. This is partly due to the improved employment opportunities of these areas and to the fact that these cities have established Asian American communities.
Acculturation and Assimilation
Unlike other immigrant groups, there are no established Indonesian American ethnic enclaves. This may be attributed to the fact that Indonesia has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the world; their diversity in social classes, language, religion, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and geographic location has lessened the possibility of forming a community of common traditions. However, there are numerous organizations, clubs, and religious groups in cities where there is a relatively large concentration of Indonesians, including Dharma Wanita, Ikatan Keluarga Indonesia di AS, and Washington Court Gamelan Ensemble Association.
TRADITIONS, CUSTOMS, AND BELIEFS
Assimilation for Indonesian American immigrants has been difficult, often causing them to become more attached to the traditions of their homeland. The Indonesians' sense of art is closely related to their mystic sense of identity with nature and with God. Humanity, nature, and art constitute an unbroken continuity. Artistic expression in Indonesian art is particularly evident in their dress. Much of their traditional dress consists of batik cloth. Batik is a design and art form that can be achieved by two techniques. The older method is called tjanting because a crucible of that name is used to draw the design directly on the cotton, by means of hot wax. When cooled, the wax resists the dye into which the cloth is immersed, so that all of the cloth except the area bearing the design accepts the dye. The wax is then removed, and the dyeing process is repeated. The second technique is regarded by some as inferior because the batik it produces is perceived to be machine-made. Actually, the design is made by a tjap, a printing stamp that is applied by hand to the cloth.
Other distinctive arts of the Indonesian people are the dance dramas of Bali and the Mataram court tradition. Both are essentially religious in character, though some Balinese dance is frivolous, flirtatious, or playful. Puppet dramas, or wajang, have been popular for a long time. The most popular puppets are flat and made of leather, but wooden puppets are also used. The puppeteer sits in back of a white screen and moves the puppets to act out stories. A palm-oil lamp throws the shadows of the puppets onto the screen. The plots usually involve a virtuous hero who triumphs over evil by means of supernatural powers and his own self-conquest.
Many Indonesians practice Western arts, from oil painting to metal sculpture, the subjects of which are often inspired by Indonesian life and traditions. The literary arts are also popular. Early Indonesian literature consisted largely of local folk tales and traditional religious stories. The works of classical Indonesian authors, such as Prapantja, are still read today, though modern literature in the Indonesian language began in the 1920s.
Rice is a central ingredient to the Indonesian diet. Indonesians boil or fry rice in various ways and serve it with a great variety of other foods. Foods are usually cooked in coconut milk and oil and sometimes wrapped in banana or coconut leaves. Fish, chicken, and beef are cooked with spices and served with rice. Indonesians eat little pork, since most of them are Muslims. Tea and coffee are favorite beverages.
At ceremonial occasions, including modern weddings, funerals, or state functions, foods such as sate (small pieces of meat roasted on a skewer), krupuk (fried shrimp or fish-flavored chips made with rice flour), and highly spiced curries of chicken and goat are commonly served. These foods are often served buffet style and at room temperature. Food is eaten with fingertips or with a spoon and fork. Water is served after the meal. These dietary customs are usually observed by Indonesian Americans during holidays and special events in the United States. For everyday meals, some Indonesians adapt readily to American food, while others prefer Indonesian or Chinese cuisine.
CULTURAL EVENTS AND HOLIDAYS
Despite their ethnic diversity, there are three major holidays that virtually all Indonesian Americans observe. Idul Fitri (in Arabic), which is also known as Hari Raja or Lebaran (in Indonesian), marks the end to the Muslims' obligatory fast during the 30-day fast of Ramadan. Many Indonesians celebrate with a traditional Muslim feast. The date of this holiday is determined by the lunar calendar; therefore, the date varies from year to year. Christmas and Easter are also national holidays in Indonesia. Independence Day is August 17. On this day, according to officials in the Indonesian Embassy and Consulate Generals, Indonesians in the United States are invited to celebrate along with Indonesian officials in a flag-raising ceremony and reception.
Both Indonesian American men and women wear sarongs, traditional Indonesian garments with batik designs. Indonesian men generally wear sarongs only in the home or during informal occasions. Women wear sarongs on formal occasions, along with the kebaya, a tight, low-cut, long-sleeved blouse. Women often tie their hair into a bun or attach a hairpiece. Men may also don batik shirts that are worn outside their trousers and a black felt cap, called a peci, an item once associated with Muslims or Malays that has acquired a more secular, national meaning in the post-independence period.
DANCES AND SONGS
The most popular forms of dance in Indonesia are the Balinese dance and the wajang kulit. Though the origins of wajang kulit are lost in antiquity, many scholars believe that it is indigenous to Indonesia and that other shadow-drama arts around the world derive from it. This shadow drama is so popular that those who grew up in Indonesia can recognize all the stylized puppets and the episodes of the dramatized epics.
INDONESIAN STUDENTS IN THE UNITED STATES
In recent years, many Indonesians have immigrated to the United States to attend American colleges or graduate schools. Afterward, many choose to apply for permanent residency or for citizenship. Presently, about 26 percent of the Indonesians residing in the United States are between the ages of 25 and 34. The same percentage of Indonesians have bachelor's degrees.
The attitudes of Indonesian graduate students at selected universities in the United States were reported in Dr. Rustam Amir Effendi's doctoral dissertation of 1983. Students attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, the University of Minnesota, Ohio University, the Ohio State University, and the University of Wisconsin were polled about their success with academic adjustment and their overall satisfaction with American education. The study disclosed that approximately 80 percent of Indonesian students were male and that 50 percent of them were between the ages of 31 and 35. Slightly more than 50 percent of them had worked as professionals for several years after they acquired their undergraduate degrees in Indonesia and before they came to America. Most of them became university faculty or government officials. Most studied engineering and the social sciences.
The number of Indonesian students in the United States has grown steadily since 1983. The successful personal adjustments and academic achievements of these students are decided by mainly two factors: language efficiency and the ability to adjust to American society. While some of them return to Indonesia, many choose to remain in the United States to continue their professional pursuits.
With over 300 regional languages and dialects, there is a considerable diversity in the languages used in Indonesia. The major family of Indonesian language is the Austronesian. Bahasa Indonesian, a modified form of Malay, was named by Indonesian nationalists in 1928 as the official language. The majority of educated Indonesians in urban areas speak at least two languages.
Spoken Indonesian varies depending on the rank or status of the speaking partner. Respected elders are usually addressed in a kinship term— bapak (father or elder) or ibu (mother). Indirect references are usually preferred in conversation.
Most Indonesian names have two parts, although some Indonesians, including President Suharto, use only one name. In most cases it is appropriate to use the last part of the name before the indicator as a second reference. If no such filial indicator appears, the last part of the name is used as a second reference. Names including "Abu" or "Abdul" should use that word plus the word immediately following as a second reference. Some Muslim names include a place name. The part of the name preceding the place name should be used on second reference, for example, Abdullah Udjong Buloh, or Mr. Abdullah.
Family and Community Dynamics
Intermarriage is not uncommon between Indonesians and Americans, especially for the younger generation, though the elder-generation Indonesians prefer that their offspring marry others of Indonesian heritage. According to the 1990 Census of Population: Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States, more than 50 percent of adult Indonesians are members of families with two parents.
The religions in Indonesia are as numerous as the languages. Nearly 90 percent of Indonesians observe Islam, with significantly smaller populations observing Protestantism (six percent), Catholicism (three percent), Hinduism (two percent), and Buddhism (one percent). Many Chinese Indonesians follow Buddhist teachings. All five play significant roles in Indonesian communities in and outside the United States
The high percentage of Muslims makes Indonesia the largest Islamic country in the world. Introduced to Indonesia by traders from India between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, Islam, or sharia (in Indonesian), is a strictly monotheistic religion in which God, Allah, is a pervasive, if somewhat distant, figure. The prophet Muhammad is not deified but is regarded as a human who was selected by God to spread the word to others through the Koran, Islam's holiest book. There are significant variations in the practice and interpretation of Islam in various parts of Indonesia. Overall, a less strict interpretation of Islam is practiced than in the Middle East. There has been constant interaction between the Muslims and the Hindu-Buddhist population in Java Island ever since the initial introduction of Islam, and over time they have blended to form a loosely organized belief system called Javanism, or agama Jawa, which was officially recognized in the 1945 constitution.
The most rapidly growing religions in Indonesia are the Christian faith:, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. The number of Christians in Indonesia is very small compared with the number of Muslims, but Christianity has a long history in Indonesia. It was introduced by Portuguese Jesuits and Dominicans in the sixteenth century. When the Dutch defeated Portugal in 1605, the Calvinist Dutch Reformed Church expelled Catholic missionaries and became the only Christian influence in the islands for 300 years. Because Calvinism was a strict, austere, and intellectually uncompromising variety of Christianity that demanded a thorough understanding of scripture, Christianity gained few converts in Indonesia until the nineteenth century, when German Lutherans introduced evangelical freedom and Jesuits established successful missions, schools, and hospitals on some of the islands, including Timor and Flores.
Membership in Christian churches surged after the 1965 coup attempt, when all nonreligious persons were labeled atheists and were suspected to be Communists. By the 1990s, the majority of Christians in Indonesia were Protestants of one affiliation or another. Catholic congregations grew less rapidly, due to the Church's heavy reliance on Europeans in positions of leadership.
Hinduism is perceived to enforce a rigid caste structure, dividing people into classes: priests, ruler-warriors, and commoners-servants. However, the caste system has never been rigidly applied in Indonesia. The majority of the Hindus are in Bali, and they express their beliefs through art and ritual instead of scripture and law. Ceremonies at puberty, marriage, and, most notably, death are closely associated with the Balinese version of Hinduism.
Chinese Indonesians brought Buddhism to Indonesia, along with Taoism and Confucianism. This unique version of Buddhism was introduced by the founder of Perbuddhi, Bhikku Ashin Jinarakkhita. He claimed that there is a single supreme deity, Sang Hyand Adi Buddha. In the wake of the failed coup in 1965, many Indonesians registered as Buddhists—some simply to avoid being suspected as Communist sympathizers and others sincere enough to construct monasteries.
Although there are various schools of thoughts and practices among Indonesian Buddhists, they each acknowledge the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths concern the suffering of all living beings, resulting from the craving for worldly belongings. The Eightfold Path leads to enlightenment, teaching purified views, speech, conduct, and mind. In Indonesia, Buddhism is highly individualistic, with each person held accountable for his or her own self. Anyone can meditate alone, anywhere. Temples and pagodas exist only to inspire the proper frame of mind for believers' devotion and self-awareness.
In Dr. Fredy Lowell Macarewa's doctoral dissertation (1988), the author chronicled the efforts by the Seventh-Day Adventists, who practice an evangelical Christian faith, to reach Indonesian Americans. These efforts have not been entirely successful, however, because of the failure to comprehend the belief system unique to Indonesians, which grew out of the long transition from Dutch Indonesian rule to Indonesian independence. Macarewa also recognized that evangelizing Muslims is a difficult task, because of prejudice and antagonism between the followers of Christianity and Islamic Indonesia during the past 14 centuries.
Besides Seventh-Day Adventism, there are other religious establishments for the Indonesian residing in the United States, as there are for Korean Americans and other Asian Americans. These churches or religious groups serve not only as sites for worship but also as centers for social and cultural activities.
Employment and Economic Traditions
According to the 1990 census, one-third of employed Indonesian adults in the United States are managers; one-third are professionals; and one-third are in technical, sales, and administrative-support occupations. There is a growing number of Indonesians who make their living in the importing and exporting business. Trade between Indonesia and United States has been robust. In the early 1990s, U.S. imports from Indonesia, consisting mostly of oil, rubber, coffee, tin, spices, tea, plywood, and textiles, amounted to nearly $4 billion. Exports to Indonesia totaled $2.5 billion and included agricultural products, resins, aircraft and parts, and earth-moving equipment. To facilitate trade there are commercial trade organizations such as the American-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Trade Council, the American Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, the Central Indonesian Trading Company, the Indonesian Investment Promotion Office, and the Indonesian Trade Promotion Center, all located in New York City. However, recently there have been organization branches established in other cities, including Los Angeles and Houston.
Politics and Government
The immigration bill passed by the Indonesian parliament on March 4, 1993 is greatly impacting the influx of Indonesians to the United States or other countries. The bill bars certain individuals from leaving or re-entering Indonesia if doing so could disrupt development, cause disunity among the Indonesian population, or threaten the individual's life or that of his or her family. Furthermore, a time limit of between six months and two-and-a-half years was set on travel in and out of Indonesia, for those affected. There are no public records showing how many Indonesians are barred from leaving the country.
In November 1994, U.S. President Bill Clinton attended the Asian Pacific Economic Summit meeting in Jakarta. Trade relations between the two countries improved after the meeting. However, Indonesia was embroiled in political chaos in 1998-1999 during its election cycle which has made the nations political future and emigration patterns uncertain.
Indonesian communities in the United States are linked by this publication—the first such commercial magazine in the United States. Published since 1988, it is a monthly journal distributed, free of charge, to the larger Indonesian communities in the country: New York, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Free copies are also distributed at Indonesian restaurants, churches, and other social organizations throughout the United States. Advertising revenues are its sole means of support. With the exception of some of the advertisements, the text of the publication is in Bahasa Indonesian. With reports on cultural, social, and even political events in the United States as well as in Indonesia, this publication serves as an important vehicle of communication for Indonesians who reside in the United States.
Contact: Mr. Mailangkay, Editor and Publisher.
Address: Desktop Designs, P.O. Box 4009, West Covina, California, 91791.
The Indonesia Letter.
This monthly publication enjoys the largest distribution among its kind. It provides commentary and analysis on the subject of Indonesia and news of its economic, political, and social development.
Address: Asia Letter, Ltd., Los Angeles, California.
Organizations and Associations
American-ASEAN Trade Council.
The Council membership consists of members of the American Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce, and other ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).
Address: 40 East 49th Street, New York, New York 10017.
American Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (AICC).
This unofficial and nonpolitical organization was incorporated in the United States in 1949, before Indonesia received full independence, a fact that signified the willingness of U.S. firms to trade directly with emerging Republic of Indonesia. Since then, its mission has been to foster and promote trade and investment between the United States and Indonesia. Currently, the American Indonesian Chamber of Commerce has over 150 members, including banks; energy companies; shipping lines; engineering firms; exporters; manufacturers; legal, public relations, and financial-service firms; and consulting and trading companies. The Chamber works closely with both Indonesians and Americans who are interested in doing export and import business from the United States or from Indonesia.
Contact: Wayne Forrest, Executive Director.
Address: 711 Third Avenue, 17th floor, New York, New York 10017.
Telephone: (212) 687-4505.
Fax: (212) 867-9882.
Asian American Arts Centre (AAAC).
Supports exhibition of traditional and contemporary Asian American, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Indian, Korean, and Filipino arts, including dance, music, performance art, and poetry.
Contact: Robert Lee, Director.
Address: 26 Bowery Street, New York, New York 10013.
Telephone: (212) 233-2154.
East Timor Project.
This organization seeks to draw public attention to the situations of political prisoners in Indonesia, and to conditions in East Timor. It was formerly named the Emergency Committee for Human Rights in Indonesia and Self-Determination on East Timor.
Contact: Arnold S. Kohen, Coordinator.
Address: P.O. Box 2197, Washington, D.C. 20013.
Indonesian American Society.
Address: c/o Major Hal Maynard, 8725 Piccadilly, Springfield, Virginia 22151.
Telephone: (703) 425-5080.
Indonesian Community Association.
This association serves as the central point of networking among Indonesians residing in the United States. The Chair serves as leader and coordinator for Indonesian American community. Considered the official representation of Indonesia in the United States, the association was formed to support such activities as family-oriented events, lectures, sports, and religious holidays. The association publication, Warta IKI, is published quarterly and distributed among Indonesian organizations in the United States.
Contact: Mr. Muchamad Sukarna, Chair.
Address: c/o Embassy of Indonesia, 2020 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.
Telephone: (202) 775-5200.
Indonesian Students Association.
Address: c/o Embassy of Indonesia, 2121 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.
Telephone: (202) 293-1745.
Museums and Research Centers
Cornell Modern Indonesia Project.
The Center for International Studies at Cornell University conducts research activities in the United States on Indonesia's social and political development. The research efforts have resulted in the publication of monographs, bibliographies, and biographies of Indonesian historical figures. The research scope also includes cultural, military, and foreign affairs of Indonesia.
Contact: Professor Benedict Anderson, Director.
Address: Cornell University, 640 Stewart Avenue, Ithaca, New York 14853.
Telephone: (607) 255-4359.
Fax: (607) 277-1904.
E-mail: [email protected]
Sources for Additional Study
Aznam, Suhaini. "Passport Control: New Immigration Law Can Render Citizens Stateless," Far Eastern Economic Review, March 26, 1992, pp. 18-19.
Cordasco, Francesco. Dictionary of American Immigration History. Scarecrow, 1990.
Indonesia: A Country Study, fifth edition, edited by William H. Frederick and Robert L. Worden. Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1992.