Indonesia Society

Proportion of literate adults: Men 97.2%, women 93.6%

Major religions: Islam 88%, Christianity 9.7%, Hinduism 1.7%

Urban population: 55.3%

Life expectancy (female / male): Women 76 years, men 70.6 years (2018)

Gender Inequality Index: Rank 111 of 189 (2018)

Infant mortality: 23.5 per 1000 births (2016)

Number of births: 2.1 / woman (2018)

The Indonesian language

Even 75 years after the Declaration of Independence speaks a lot of the Indonesians in daily life rather the respective local language as Indonesian. About 700 languages are in use. Around 80 million Indonesians speak Javanese and around 30 million Sundanese. Many children only learn Indonesian as a second language. In the process of nation-building, therefore, in addition to the unity of the state and the nation, the common language as an external sign and connecting means of communication plays an important role.

A good Indonesian-English and an expandable German-IndonesianOnline dictionaries make it easier to learn the language. There are even several free Indonesian courses on the Internet in English as the language of instruction.

The book trade offers some good German-Indonesian and Indonesian-German dictionaries.

The gibberish phrasebook Indonesian makes it easier to get started with learning the language.

Unlike many other languages in the (South) East Asian region, the Indonesian language does not have different pitches and is relatively easy for Germans to learn due to a little different pronunciation and a relatively simple grammar.

Since the written language is much more complex, it is a special challenge for foreigners in Indonesia to speak “ready for printing”.

A very creative scene language (” bahasa gaul “) is increasingly spoken by urban youths, which is mixed with local terms, gangster and gay slang, numerous abbreviations and terms from the Internet as well as new words.

Consensus principle

In the Suharto era in particular, there was a real social compulsion to make all decisions by consensus. Anyone expressing contrary opinions publicly had to reckon with consequences that could lead to arrest and indictment of subversion – an offense for which the death penalty was at the time.

According to eningbo, the ‘Indonesian society’ was ideally a consensus community – at least in terms of self-portrayal and when viewed superficially. The principle of the state motto “Unity in Diversity” was applied to this. According to this ideal, the plurality of opinions was filtered until a concentrate is created in which each individual can or must find himself. The process of this concentration was based on the traditional principle of Musyawarah and Mufakat, that is, the extensive discussion, the result of which is the decision of all by consensus.

In practice, however, with reference to the principle of consensus, decisions were repeatedly made at a higher level, which – for fear of consequences – were approved by the lower level.

However, the plurality of parties in democratic Indonesia today has led to increasingly controversial issues being discussed and voted on in parliaments. The change in traditional values – towards more open confrontation – is also noticeable in the role played by the unions, which have grown significantly in recent years. For many Indonesians, this fact still needs getting used to, which is noticeable, for example, in the widespread longing for a “strong man” at the head of the state.


Other kinds of social values, such as the pronounced need for harmony, can be interpreted in a similarly ambiguous manner. They are definitely there, you can feel them constantly in everyday life, for example through carefully articulated criticism, positive verbalization of negatives, etc. Yet there is the other side here too. The social compulsion to permanent harmony, especially in the traditional Javanese worldview, allows almost no outlets to live out emotions. Amok (a Malay word by the way) as a reaction is a regular occurrence. However, the increasing change in Indonesian society – especially in the urban centers – leads to a freer possibility of personal development.

Regional knowledge tip:

Prepare yourself thoroughly for social differences to your own cultural environment. Not knowing what to expect from the Indonesian side can lead to ‘loss of face’. Information on “correct” behavior in Indonesia can be found in works such as ‘Kunci budaya’, ‘Professionally in Indonesia’ and (particularly recommended by the author of this page) ‘ KulturSchock Indonesia’.

Dancers at the court of the Sultan of Yogyakarta

Social change

Old structures are breaking open. The change can be seen in many ways. The popularity of wayang performances has decreased significantly since the introduction of television, gamelan orchestras still exist in large numbers, but: the youth mainly listen to modern pop music. Traditional communication structures are also retained in Indonesia depending on the occasion, while at the same time no more tweeting anywhere in the world is considered in Indonesia. The growing together world has thus also noticeably shaped Indonesia. Young people in Jakarta or other major cities in Indonesia do not differ much, at least outwardly, from those in other metropolises around the world. But outwardly “Western” clothing must not hide the fact that traditional values (family, marriage, hierarchy) still play an important role in private life for these young people.