Friday, March 20, 2009


Indonesia's social and geographical environment is one of the most complex and varied in the world. By one count, at least 669 distinct languages and well over 1,100 different dialects are spoken in the archipelago. The nation encompasses some 13,667 islands; the landscape ranges from rain forests and steaming mangrove swamps to arid plains and snowcapped mountains. Major world religions--Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism--are described. Political systems vary from the ornate sultans' courts of Central Java to the egalitarian communities of hunter-gatherers of Sumatran jungles.Some Indonesian communities rely on orthodox feasting systems and marriage exchange for economic distribution, while others act as sophisticated brokers in international trading networks operating throughout the South China Sea. Indonesians also have a wide mixture of living arrangements. Some go home at night to extended families living in isolated bamboo longhouses, others return to hamlets of tiny houses clustered around a mosque, whereas still others go home to nuclear families in urban high-rise apartment complexes.

Over the course of the 1980s, population mobility, educational achievement, and urbanization increased as Indonesians were exposed to the varieties of their nation's cultures through television, newspapers, schools, and cultural activities. Linkages to native geographic region and sociocultural heritage weakened. Ethnicity became a means of identification in certain situations but not in others.In a similar way, isolated hill tribes living in the interiors of the islands of Sulawesi, Seram, or Timor might express devotion to ancestral spirits through animal sacrifice at home, but swear loyalty to the Indonesian state in school and church, or at the polls. In the early 1990s one's identity as an Indonesian was still interwoven with one's familial, regional, and ethnic heritage.

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