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Indonesia: Food, Clothing, and Popular Culture
Country Study > Chapter 2 > The Society and Its Environment > The Emerging National Culture > Food, Clothing, and Popular Culture


Many foods could be found in nearly every corner of the archipelago in the 1990s. Rice is a national staple, even in areas such as eastern Indonesia, where the main source of most starch was likely to be corn (known as maize in Indonesia), cassava, taro, or sago. On ceremonial occasions -- modern weddings, funerals, or state functions -- foods such as sate (small pieces of meat roasted on a skewer), krupuk (fried shrimp- or fish-flavored chips made with rice flour), and highly spiced curries of chicken and goat were commonly served. In public events, these foods were often placed on a table, served at room temperature, and guests served themselves buffet style. Rice was placed in the center of the plate, with meats or other condiments around the edges. Food was eaten -- usually quite rapidly and without speaking -- with the fingertips or with a spoon and fork. Water was generally drunk only after the meal, when men (rarely women) smoked their distinctive clove-scented kretek cigarettes.

On many formal national occasions, men in the early 1990s wore batik shirts with no tie and outside the trousers. A hat was usually a black felt cap or peci, once associated with Muslims or Malays but having acquired a more secular, national meaning in the postindependence period. Indonesian men generally wore sarongs only in the home or on informal occasions. Women, on the other hand, wore sarongs on formal occasions, along with the kebaya, a tight, low-cut, long-sleeved blouse. On these occasions, women often tied their hair into a bun, or attached a false hairpiece. In addition, they might have carried a selendang, a long stretch of cloth draped over the shoulder, which on less formal occasions was used to carry babies or objects.

Urban Indonesian night life in the early 1990s centered around night markets, shopping in Chinese toko (stores), food stalls called warung, and the Indonesian cinema. American anthropologist Karl Heider described Indonesian motion pictures as violent, rarely sexy, and often Indian and Western in inspiration. Although they were an important part of Indonesian national culture in the early 1990s, films did not necessarily mirror accurately the facts of Indonesian life. According to Heider, most (85.1 percent) Indonesian-made films were set in cities -- even though the population was largely rural -- and most films employed Bahasa Indonesia even though most viewers were Javanese. There was rarely mention of religion or ethnicity, even though most of the population had a religious affiliation middle class, despite the fact that Indonesia's middle class was relatively small. Heider observed that Westerners were unambiguously presented as modern, as having no tradition whatsoever, and Western women were presented as having no constraints on their sexuality. The audiences for films consisted almost entirely of teenagers and young adults, and were more male than female.

Adults seemed to prefer television over cinema, and the number of television sets in Indonesian households rose dramatically in the 1980s. In addition, some advertisements of consumer items appeared on television. National and international news was highly popular, even in remote areas, and contained many descriptions of government development programs. Nearly all of the programming in the early 1990s was in Bahasa Indonesia, although some local arts programs were conducted in regional languages. The most popular televised programs were sports events, such as soccer, boxing, and volleyball.

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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