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People and Culture

With an estimated population of around 237 million people, Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country after China, India and the United States, and has the largest Muslim population in the world. The work force (15-64 yrs of age) is 65.4 percent of the total population and consists of 76,743,613 males and 76,845,245 females.

A Diverse Nation

In its ethnic groups, languages, culture, and religion, Indonesia is a very diverse nation. This great diversity is reflected in the country's national motto Bhinneka Tunggal Ika which means "Unity in Diversity."

  1. Ethnic Groups
    There are about 500 ethnic groups in Indonesia spread from Sabang (the northernmost tip of Sumatra) to Merauke in Papua. The Javanese community is the largest number of Indonesia’s total population, followed by Sundanese, Madurese, Minangkabau, Buginese, Batak and Balinese. Other ethnic groups are among others, the Ambonese, Dayaks. Sasaks, the Acehnese and Papuans.

    Apart from the indigenous communities, other sub communities of foreign descent are the Chinese, the Arabs and Indians.

  2. Languages
    There are more than 700 languages and dialects spoken in the archipelago. They normally belong to the different ethnic groups of the population. Some of the distinctly different local languages are: Acehnese, Batak, Sundanese, Javanese, Sasak, Tetum of Timor, Dayak, Minahasa, Toraja, Buginese, Halmahera, Ambonese, Ceramese, and several Irianese languages. To make the picture even more colorful, these languages are also spoken in different dialects.

    Bahasa Indonesia is the national language. It is similar to Malay and written in Roman script based on European orthography. English is the most prevalent foreign language. Also, some Dutch is still spoken and understood in the bigger cities.

  3. Culture
    Indonesia's active history has encouraged the growth of many unique cultures. On Java, the Javanese of Central and East Java are known for having several layers of formality in their language. In Javanese, to speak to an elder and then to a child is like speaking two different languages. The Toraja of Sulawesi are famous for their elaborate funeral ceremonies. Often several days long, these ceremonies bring the whole village together in a feast, a procession, and a hillside burial. And the Minangkabau of Sumatra still maintain a matrilineal society. Everything from houses to animals is inherited from mother to daughter.

    Today, the country maintains this cultural richness, even as it expands into new areas. The traditional music of the gamelan and angklung coexist with new dangdut and rock and roll! The ancient art of wayang kulit, or shadow puppetry, complements the modern Indonesian film industry. And, while the themes and story from historic epics like the Ramayana persist.

  4. Religion
    While Indonesia is home to the largest number of Muslims in the world, its constitution guarantees religious rights to all people. At least six world religions find their adherents in Indonesia: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Confucianism, Hinduism and Buddhism. Nevertheless, other faiths can be found, especially in isolated societies. These religions, called traditional faiths, are also accepted. According to recent counts, approximately 85 percent of the population are Muslim, 11 percent are Christian (Protestants and Catholics), around 4 percent are Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, or traditional.

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