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Indonesia: Living Environments
Country Study > Chapter 2 > The Society and Its Environment > The Emerging National Culture > Living Environments


The government of Indonesia saw itself in the early 1990s as having a responsibility to advance a national culture, a project that was linked to requirements of national development and political integration. Government mandates aside, however, as more and more of the Indonesian population sought employment in large, poorly integrated cities consisting of diverse ethnic groups, the concept of a national culture had great appeal as a way of regulating these changing urban environments. Although the central government attempted to guide the formation of this culture through education curricula, national holiday celebrations, and careful control of the national media (popular art, television, and print media), this emerging culture came about only partly through central planning. Evidence of an Indonesian national culture also appeared in the far less controlled layout and social organization of cities; routines of social interaction using the official national language, Bahasa Indonesia; patterns of eating and preparing food; the viewing of team sports, such as soccer, badminton, and volleyball; motion pictures; and material displays of wealth.

In most cities, the heart of the urban culture was a commercial sector surrounding a central square. Although the Dutch left a legacy of a basic civil architecture and street plans for many cities in Java and a few in Sumatra and Bali, most cities failed to experience a level of improved urban design and services commensurate with their tremendous population growth. As a result, many cities had a rural character, with very simple sanitation, housing, and transportation facilities. Jakarta, Surabaya, and Medan were among the few cities that had modern-looking business districts; in smaller cities, the typical commercial building was still the small, tin-roofed Chinese store with removable wooden doors opening out onto the street.

Indonesian cities in the late twentieth century were internally segmented in complex, overlapping ways that differentiated ethnic groups, income levels, and professional specializations. There were some neighborhoods that tended to house well-to-do business owners, foreign diplomats, and high-level government officials, whereas other areas tended to be home to migrant communities from the rural areas. However, the boundaries between one area and another were often far from clear. For example, although many well-to-do and mid-level civil servants and white collar workers were often presented in motion pictures and television as more closely identified with the national culture than with any ethnic group, affiliations actually cut across class lines in complex and shifting ways. Indeed, many recent migrants retained strong ties to their ethnic homelands, viewing their stay in the cities as temporary.

Data as of November 1992

Last Updated: November 1992

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Indonesia was first published in 1993. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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Section 53 of 210


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