July 23 – Children's Day in Indonesia

Posted on July 23, 2017

Children's Day is not widely celebrated in Indonesia, but those who do celebrate the special day organize cultural and educational events. We're talking races and poetry readings, sports and games, and possibly carnivals in which kids wear traditional costumes. 

Children's Day is always celebrated on July 23 - it's what's known as a "fixed-date holiday" - except when it isn't. If the day would fall within the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, then it is postponed. (Almost 90% of Indonesians are Muslim.) However, this year Ramadan was from late May to late June - so let the Children's Day festivities begin!

Made up of more than 17,000 islands (!), it is probably not surprising that there is a huge number of different ethnic groups, each with their own kind of traditional dress, art and music, dance and rituals, myths and even language. Like, more than 300 different groups, and more than 700 languages!

The influences on the variety of cultures include Indian, Arabic, Chinese, and European (Indonesia was colonized primarily by the Dutch - for about 350 years! - but various islands were controlled by Portugal, France, and Great Britain for chunks of time as well). 

It's no wonder that the Indonesian motto is "Unity in Diversity." In Indonesian, it is "Bhinneka Tunggal Ika," which translates literally to "many, yet one." This is a lot like the U.S. Latin motto, "E pluribus unum," which translates to "out of many, one."

I found it interesting to discover that Dutch is not one of the official languages of Indonesia (Indonesian is the only official language), and Dutch isn't even on the list of commonly spoken languages. (English is!) After 350 of Dutch colonization?? Surprising...and not at all common.

I looked into it, and I discovered that, when the Dutch arrived, the various peoples living on the Indonesian islands had a lingua franca - a common language with which they could talk to one another - as well as their many and varied local languages. That common language was Malay, which is an official language of Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei, and which forms the basis of the Indonesian language.

The Dutch traders and governors didn't see any benefit to teaching all the varied peoples Dutch, so instead the Dutch officers and merchants learned Malay. 

Of course, the Dutch rulers did speak Dutch among themselves, but apparently they tried to limit the amount of Dutch that was in use publicly, so it remained a sort of prestige language.

During World War II, Japanese forces occupied Indonesia, and they outlawed the use of the Dutch language. After WWII, Indonesia became independent, but they kept in place the rules against the use of Dutch as a way of stoking nationalist pride.

Take a peek at some of the massive amounts of diversity in Indonesia:

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