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The People of Indonesia, Way of Life

songkok, sarong skirt, tuak, kebaya, Majapahit

The sprawling Indonesian archipelago is home to many different ways of life, reflecting the regionís history. Before independence, the only factor uniting the islands was Dutch colonialism. Although the kingdoms of Sri Vijaya, Majapahit, and Mataram spread their influence widely throughout the islands, none of the native empires ever controlled the whole region. Nor did Buddhism or Hinduism have a significant impact in the far eastern stretches. As the country has modernized and urbanized, life in the cities has evolved new patterns, adding additional diversity to Indonesian life.

The status of women in Indonesia is varied, and opinions about womenís roles are polarized. Most Indonesians concede that women have limited formal opportunities in social institutions, but many claim women exert considerable power within families. The Minangkabau society in western Sumatra is matrilinealóthat is, property and lineage are passed down and traced through the motherís family. However, the Minangkabau are an isolated example. In the mid-1990s women comprised less than 10 percent of managers and administrators. Feminism is largely an urban ideology in Indonesia, pursued by younger, educated women.

Men and women who live in cities generally adopt Western dress. Regionally, there are many styles of traditional dress, but most women wear a sarong (wraparound skirt or dress) and a kebaya, a fitted blouse. When participating in ceremonies, men often wear a batik shirt and a sarong skirt, along with a songkok, a black Muslim cap.

The most popular sports in Indonesia are badminton and soccer. Tennis has also gained a growing following. Several forms of martial arts, including forms that use sticks and knives, are popular in Java and Sumatra.

Rice is the staple food of most Indonesian dishes and its preparation varies between regions. The hot, spicy food from the Padang region can be found in specialized Padang restaurants throughout most of Indonesia. Sundanese food is served in West Java, while most places have a local specialty, such as grilled fish and seafood in Makassar. Traditional Indonesian drinks include an alcoholic wine (tuak) made from the red sugar of a palm tree. Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol, however, so most Indonesians drink weak black tea with food. In cities, bottled water is popular.

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