*** Indonesia


Indonesian boys
Figure 1.--Here we see Dutch and Indonesian children, presumably in the 1930s before World War II and the Japanese invasion (1942). This is one of the many fascinating photographs from Hein Buitenweg's book Kind in tempo doeloe. The second boy on the left seems to be wearing a sarong, while one of the others is holding up a 'slendang' (or 'sel�ndang'), a piece of batik cloth that is worn over the shoulder and is sometimes used to carry things (women carry their babies in a slendang). Some of the boys are wearing a "kopiah", a black velvet cap, worn only by Moslem men and boys. The girl in the front is mixed Indo-European, usually with Dutch citizenship.

Indonesia is a huge country encompasing an emense archipelago. And it has one of the world's largest populations. This makes it the largest Muslim country in the world. Indonesia has had a turbulent history. The people were first influenced by Indian culture and the then Islamic traders. Finally the Portugese and Dutch reached the islands and colonized them (16th century). It was a prosperous Dutch colony. The Dutch introduced the rule of law and free market capitlism, but not democracy. The Dutch East Indies (DEI) were the Netherland's most important colony. The oil of the islands was the major objective of the Japanese military attack on Pearl Harbor. The DEI was devestated by the Japanese World War II occupation. The Nationalist movement dominated by the military that seized power after a brief war for independence introduced authoritarian rule and state socialism. The result was several decades of economic stagnation. The over throw of military rule has brought democracy and free market reforms that has brought unprecendented prosperity to the country. Boys' clothing in Indonesia has some similarity to neighboring Malaysia which also has a majority Islamic population. Some areas have a very mixed religious pattern: parts of Sumatra, Celebes, the Moluccas, have a Christian majority or large Christian minorities even among the non-Chinese population. Even on Java, which is predominantly Muslim, Roman Catholics may amount to up to 10 percent in some areas. Differences in dress among these groups, however, seems much less pronounced than in Malaysia. Islam, though requiring modesty, has never set rules as to the actual length of trousers, certainly not for men.


Indonesia is the largest country in Southeast Asia whuch we have organuzationally grouped in Ocrania. It is a vast archipelago and the junction between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. There are more than 13,000 islands of various sizes. The largest islands are Java, Kalimantan (the Indonesian name for their prtion of Borneo), Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Papua (the western part of New Guinea). Indonesia by ocean area isone of the woirld's largest countries, but even by the 1.9 million square kilometers land area, is sttill a substantial country. The terraine and climate varies substantially. The climate is tropical as the Equator passes through the middle of the archepeligo. There is some variation vertivally with more moderate climatic conditions in the mountaneous highlands. There is sunstantial fertile land which is used for agriculture. There are also a range of natural resources, including, petroleum, natural gas, and coal. There are also a range of metal resources, including tin, bauxite, nickel, copper, gold, and silver.


The history of Indonesia dates back to Java Man (Homo erectus) who after migrating from Africa reached Oceania (half a million years ago). He was followed by the ancestors of the present-day Papuans (about 60,000 years ago) and eventually reached New Guinea and Australia as well (30-40,000 years ago). Finally Malayo-Polynesian groups reached Java and Sumatra (fourth millennium BC). This group is today the primary ethnic group in Indonesia. Trade contracts with India, China and Southeast Asia introduced advanced cultures and religions to what is now Indonesia. Indian traders intoduced both Hinduism and Buddhism. They were largely overwealmed by Islam ibntroduced by both Indian and Arab traders (8th and 9th centuries). Indonesia's abundant spices attracted Portuguese traders who were the first Europeans to reach Asia (16th century). Indonesia was eventually colonized by the Dutch and became known as the Dutch East Indies (17th century). As in the rest of Asia, nationalist stirring in the early 20th century began to challenge European rule. Nationlist figures like Sukarno were inprisoned by the Dutch. Oil made the DEI a valuable colonial assettt and Japan needed oil to continue its war in China. The Japanese at the onset of World War II in the Pacific invaded and occupied the DEI (1942). Indonesian nationalist figures like Sukarno largely collaborated with the Japanese who offered, but never granted independence. The Japanese occupation proved to be a disaster. Largely because the Japanese ceased food stocks, anoyt 4 million people died, largely new to famine. The Japanese demonstrated, however, the fragility of Dutch colonial rule. Nationalist groups launchef a 4-year guerilla war on Java follwing the War. Indonesia officially achieved its independence (1949). General Sukarno dominated the country for two decades a period during which the Communist Party (PKI) grew in strength. Sukarno appears to have been involved in a Communist coup (1965). The coup was supressed by the Army commannded by General Soeharto who launched a bloody campaign to eliminate the PKI and its suporters. General Soeharto replaced Sukarno and dominated Indonesia for three decades. Oil exports became a mainstay of the ecomomy . The Asian financial crisis devestated the Indonesian economy (1997). The economic crisis led to violent riots and other disturbances forced Soeharto to resign (1998). This made possible democratic elections the establishment of a democratic regime.


The economy of what is now Indonesia has been primarily agricultural based. This has meant primarily paddy rice culture. This means connections with the peoples of Southeast Asia and China. We are not sure just when rice culture was introduced in Indonesia. But the production of an agriculture surplus drew traders to the islands and spices added to the attraction. At the conjunction of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, traders arrived including Arabs, Indians, Chinese, and others. They both traded for the agricultural abundance of the islands as well as setting up posts for trading activities beyond the islands. The early Indonesian kingdoms were established by these trading groups. Also with trade, religions were introfuced to the islands. Important pre-European kingdoms included: Srivijaya, Mataram, and Majapahit. [Reid] Much of the Chinese goods reaching the West passed through traders on the islands. Chinese traders for the most part did not sail into the Indian Ocean. Marine archeologists have found suken ships providing valuable insights into the nature of the pre-European trade. The Europeans arrived (16th century). The Portuguese were the first to arrive. The Dutch who would eventually seize control reached the islands (1596). The Spanish seized the Philippines to the north. The Europeans did not at first change the basic economy of the region, but it did change who was involved in the trade. The Europeans gradually expanded their hold on the islands, but for the most part through the 18th century were primarily concerned with trade and did not move mich beyond the various fortified trading posts. As a result the basic economy of the islands was little changed. European reports provide some information on their commercial activities, but vurtually nothing about the larger island economy which was subsistence agriculture and boh local and inter-island trade. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) became a major factor for two centuries (1602-1795), but even so had only a limited number of trading posts in the vast archipelago. The Dutch presemce was focused on Java. Agriculture was expanded to coffee and rice. The VOC seized power from the Javanese rulers and gradually expanded control over the Javanese economy and trading activity. The VOC, for example sold Bengal cotton in the spice (pepper was especially important) growing areas. Vast profits were reported until competition with the English and the French Revolution resulted in the demise of the VOC. [Gaastra 2002] The French occupied the Netherlands and the British with the powerful Royal Navy seized control of the islands and other Dutch possessions. After the Napoleonic Wars, the Dutch regained control of the islands (1814). And Gradually the Dutch expanded their colonial role. This included improving the infrastructure. The economy remained, however, almost entirely agricultural. The discovery of oil in the 20th century had widespread consequences. It made the DUtch East Indies a major target for the Japanese in the Pacific War (1941-45). The Japanese heavily exploited the islands, causing a horrific famine. The American submarine campaign by 1943 , however, prevented the Japanese from using thec resources to support their war effort. The Dutch attempted to restablish control after the War, but were eventually forced to turn over control to nationalists led by ??? Sukarno. Like other leaders during the de-colonization era, Sukarno turned to socialist, statist enterrises. The result was economic faulure exacerbated by rampant corruption. This was little changed by subsequent military rule. The Asian economic crisis brought an end to military rule (1997). The resulting democratic givernment, free market reforms, and responsible public financial managemdnt has brought enormous economic progress.

Public Health

We are not sure yet just where to archive public health information. It has ramifications in several major areas, including economics, history (conolialism), science, and education among others. Until modern times there were no such thing as public health although some ancient civilizations did have running water. Public health systems began in Europe as science developed there and began to learn about disease and health. We know very little about public health in the Dutch East Indies. The sciebntific progress that lead to health advances were a European development. The Indonesians yhemdelves had no modrn technological capacity. The Dutch emerged as the principal colonial power, vying primarily with the Portuguese (17th century). As far aw we know, the Dutch made no sbnstantial effort in the area of public health except prsumably in the areas where the Dutch themsleves lived, albeit we have vurtually no information. They much have opened hospitals in the cities, but we have no information on just what access Indonesians had to the Dutch hospitals. The first major steps the Dutch colonial government took in the area of public health occurred as part of the new Ethical Policy which was designed to promote the welfare of the Indonesian people in health, education, and other areas (1901). We have little infirmation on wht steps were taken in public health, but the program was not well funded. And with the Great Depression, the program was essentially ended (1930s). Major efforts were not made until after World War II and the Indeopendence War (1940s). The new United Nations sponsored a range of programs to help the newly independent countries build public health systems. Building a public education system helped lay the foundation for a public health system. And the develooment of the oil industry provided the funds to finance it.


We note Indonesian children wearing both traditional and western dress. Two important traditional garments were the tjepiau and the sarong. arrived. They also wear tjepiau (moslem head gear). We do not have chronological information on ghe garments. We believe that the sarong was an ancient garment, widely worn throughout southeast Asia. We are less sure about the tjepiau. As Islam arrived only a little before the Dutch, Muslim head gear would have been of more recent origins. We are unsure just when it appeard in Muslim lands further west. Nor are we sure if boys wore it when going to mosque or all day long. The Dutch arrived with Western clothing (16th century). Indonesian boys did not begin to commonly wear wesern garmnents until much later (20th century). A reader writes, "Yes, what I saw in Indonesia (1948-1958} were boys wearing shirts and shorts. The new spelling of the word tjelana (trousers] is celana. (pronunciation stays the same). Shorts are celana p�ndek. What many smaller boys wore, were rompers (celana monj�t: 'monkey pants')." He tells us that he aklso saw boys wearing sarongs, 'but as far as I remember that was not a daily attire." They were aparently more for special occassions like goint to a mosque or perhaps a festivity or a funeral. He tells us, "Things are changing. Now Indonesian children wear uniforms to school, often brightly colored. All children now attend school. The material is cotton and most boys are in shorts. After all it is a tropical country."


Indonesia has one of the largest populations in the world. There are about 230 million people (2002). More than half (about 60 percent) live onn Java.


We do not yet have much information on Indonesian boyhood activities. Hopefully Indonesia readers will provide more information about the range of boyhood activities. As in most countries, school is the single most important activity. We do have a school page. There were no schools as such until the Dutch arrived, although there probanly were Islamic madrassas. The Dutch did not found a mass public education system, but they did open schools in the cities. We do not know much about the Dutch schools at this time. Indonesia became independent after a brief war for independence following World War II. The Indonesian Government did found a mass public education system We are not sure to what extent sport is a part of the sdchool program. As in all Muslim countries, religion is an important matter. Sport is in recent years has become increasingly important. The most popular sport is soccer and is played at all levels. The relationship between Islam and sport is interesting. Generally speaking, sport is less important in Muslim countries than the West. Here there seems to be a mix of economic and religious factirs at play. Indonesia is an increasingly prosperous country with a tradition of moderate Islam.

Chronological Trends

We have little information on Indonesian clothing until modern times. Our Indonesian archive is still very limited making any detailed chronological assessment imppssible at this time. . Hindu ivaders from India established kingdoms during the first centuries of the Christain era. Islamic invaders in the 15th century converted most of what is now Indonesia, except Bali. We are not sure to what extent this affected clothing if at all. We think boys in many areas wore traditional clothing until after World War II. We do see boys wearing Western clothing in the cities before the War, but do not yet know how common that was. Our initial assssment is that Dutch influence did not pentrate much into rural areas where the great bulk of the Idonesian peope lived. Indonesia is a very large diverse country. We do not know much about regional differences, butsopme iages suggest considerable similarities with the

Ethnic Diversity

Indonesia is an incredibly diverse country. There are some 360 different ethnic groups in Indonesia--the actual number vary. Some acciunts are as high as 1,000. The actual count varies depending on wether they are counted as groups or subgroups. The most important ethnic group is Javanese (40 percent) and Sundanese (15 percent). All iother grouos are under 5 opercent, including Malay, Batak, Madureset, Betawi, Minangkabau, Buginese, Bantenese, Banjarese, Balinese, Acehnese, Dayakt, Sasak, and Chinese 1.2 percent. Other group are under 1 opercent. Indonesians speak more than 700 languages. This is in part due to the fact that the Indonesian archepelago consists of some 13,000 islands of varying sizes. The existence of so many islands is a factor in the oyntry's ethnic diversity. Islands and the rugged landscape on many of them create isolated conditions leading to ethnic diversity. The small island of Alor with 140,000 people has 50 tribes, each tribe speaking a distinct language, And Alor is not an isolated case. Papua is western New Guinea--a large area. There are some 180 recognized ethno-linguistic groups. There are 13 languages with more than 1 million speakers. The major Indonesian ethnic groups are: Minangkabaunese, Malay, Javanese, Sundanese, Maduranese and Ambonnese. Arab, Chinese, and Indian immigrants have also settled in the country. This has occurred mostly in the coastal cities. The Dutch have left Indionesia since independence, but many of the children of Dutch-Indonsiam marriages remained. Indionesia's different ethnic groups for the most part live harmoniously. Ethniic violence has had more to do with religion than etnicity. The group most adversely affected have been the etnic chinese who are mostkly Christian. There are slight clothing differences among ethnic differences however, in the sense that, with Christians and Muslims alike, people on the central islands tend to be somewhat more conservative, modestly leaving more of the skin covered than in outlying districts.

Regional Differences

Indonesia is a vast archipelago consisting of more than 17,000 islands. The archipelago spans 5,120 km at the equator between the Asian mainland and Australia. The major islands are Sumatera, Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Papua (Irian). There have been a number of independence movements (Eastern Sumatra, the Moluccas, and Papua. The most serious is now the Papuan. After Indonesia became independent in 1949 the Dutch did not want to transer their part of New Guinea (western New Guina) to the new Indinesian Government, claiming that the people and culture were not Indonesian. After intense struggle all Dutch citizens were forced to leave the country in 1958 and a few years later Irian was annexed by Indonesia. There continues to be considerable Papuan resistance to Indonesian rule.


We have very little information about Indonesian families at this time. We do note the Van Djik family doing missionary work in the Dutch East Indies on Sumba in 1930.

Personal Experiences

We note some wonderful accounts of childhood in Indonesia.

Frank Neijndorff

Frank Neijndorff has written a lovely account of his boyhood in the Dutch East Indies. It is titled Achterom Gekeken (A Backward Glance). The book gives an account of his boyhood growing up in the Dutch East Indies. Three periods are covered. First: the last years of undisputed Dutch colonial rule (1929-42). Second: World War II anf life under the Japanese occupation (1942-45). Third: the period after the War during which sovereignty over the archipelago was disputed between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Indonesian Republic (1945-49) . The book may be ordered from the author. The author maintains a Dutch-language website.

Hein Buitenweg

Hein Buitenweg published Kind in tempo doeloe, (in Dutch) in 1969. The title in English: "Child in the old days". Tempo doeloe, or tempo dulu, (the way doeloe is spelled now), is Malayan (Indonesian) and means "then" or "at that time", meaning the good old colonial days. The book contains numerous drawings and photographs, many of them very interesting. The little Dutch boys in the drawings are wearing a "tjelana monjet", that means "monkey trousers". It is Malayan (Indonesian) and more or less pronounced as "chel�hnah monyet". That used to be the most practical clothing in the tropics for smaller boys. You notice that few of the European children is wearing shoes or sandals. Buitenweg wrote several books about life in the Dutch colonies in the Far East.


Gaastra, F.S. De Geschiedenis van de VOC (Zutphen: Walburg Pers, 1991).

Reid, Anthony. Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450-1680 Vol. I: The Lands below the Winds. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988).


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Created: July 27, 2001
Last updated: 3:16 PM 10/11/2023