We always get excited when we see a bit of our own culture in the places we visit.
So anything with a little bit of Greek and French influence immediately grabs our attention.
Our favourite 10 facts about Indonesia ticks all these boxes…did you know the majority of the French frogs' legs are imported from Indonesia…or even know where the word Indonesia comes from? (A smug Greek Stefan smiles knowingly…)
#1 THE GREEK ISLANDS OF THE EAST
“EH?!” we hear you cry…
You heard right! Stefan was quick to point out that the word Indonesia is in fact derived from 2 Greek words: Indo meaning, “India” and ni-sia meaning “islands”.
Ok, so Indonesia is not actually the Greek islands of the East. But it was enough to get Stefan excited to discover a piece of Greek influence.
MANIA…now there's another Greek word (to describe excessive enthusiasm for something)…
Indonesia is made up of no fewer then over 17,500 islands, making it the largest archipelago in the world. And, only around one third of them are occupied and named.
Despite all the unoccupied space, Indonesia is the world’s 4th most populous country with a population of over 255 million. Over 140 million reside on Java island (where the capital city Jakarta is), making it the most populous island on the planet.
With so many uninhabited islands, the country is a paradise for those who love adventure, discovery and exploring remote places off the beaten path.
#3 FROGS' LEGS-MANIA
This one made French Sebastien sit up and take note: Indonesia is the world’s leading exporter of frogs' legs. Each year, over 5,000 tons of frog meat is exported, mostly to France, Belgium and the USA.
So when you're next chewing on your cuisses de grenouilles in that Parisian restaurant, you will now know where it was most likely shipped in from.
Indonesia also uses frogs' legs in its cuisine to prepare a delicious soup called swikee (containing plenty of garlic, ginger and soya beans).
Next on the theme of largest ever are the famous Komodo Dragons: Indonesia is home to the world’s largest living species of lizard, the Komodo monitor.
They gained the Dragon nickname because of their dragon-like appearance and aggressive behaviour.
Well, they do start out life quite tough. As soon as they're born, they need to run away quickly from their hungry mother and other adult Komodos who will try to eat them!
The Dragons are venomous if they bite you, which is what makes them dangerous. Yet when we met Keith and Kenny in the Komodo National Park, they seemed so docile. This is a deception: they minimise all unnecessary movement to preserve their energy and pounce when the opportunity arises.
Indonesia has such a rich cultural history, particularly from its Portuguese and Dutch colonial past, not to mention strong Chinese influences and of course Arabic.
One of our most unique culinary encounters in Indonesia was the Royal Rijsttafel meal – an Indonesian tradition dating back to the Dutch colonial era of the 1800s.
Rijsttafel is a Dutch word, literally meaning rice table.
The rice is served with a variety of accompanying local dishes by a group of female waitresses who dance their way over to you, accompanied by traditional music.
The Rijsttafel was a way for the colonial Dutch to impress visitors with the exotic flavours of their colony.
Indonesia is the world’s 4th largest producer of coffee and each island has its own kopi (coffee) beans, producing its own specialty named after it.
So, on Java island you'll be greeted with Kopi Java. On Flores island, you'll have Kopi Flores. On Lombok island, expect some delicious Kopi Lombok…
Unfortunately, Indonesia is also famous for producing a very unique type of coffee made from the pooh of the very cute cat-like civet.
The wild nocturnal and solitary civet cats roam the coffee plantations looking for the optimum, ripest coffee cherries to eat. The coffee cherries are then fermented by the enzymes in the civet's stomach. The civet cannot digest the stone of the cherry (which is the actual coffee bean), so it poops it out.
The droppings are then collected, thoroughly washed, roasted and made into one of the world's most expensive coffee beans.
Unfortunately, the popularity of civet coffee has led to the poor animals being caged. They are force fed coffee beans all day, deprived of exercise, a proper diet, space to move and therefore have a high mortality rate.
Coffee connoisseurs argue this is counter productive because genuine good quality civet coffee can only be produced from wild civets. The free animals will identify the best cherries to eat and therefore produce a superior quality coffee.
It certainly made us think twice before trying civet coffee and decided to just stick to the local island brews.
Batik is a 2,000 years old technique of colouring and decorating fabrics using wax resistant dyeing. Batik cloth can be made into bags, paintings, scarves, table-cloths and of course into beautiful outfits:
The wax is first applied as a colour block, to any part of the material which is intended to be untouched by colour. The artist then carefully draws the pattern using the dye. The material is later boiled to remove the wax.
The batik from Java island is the most well known and in October 2009, UNESCO designated it as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Our friend and fellow blogger Aliey Eyezie of NTGravity Zone from Kuching on Borneo Island made us this very lovely batik painting as a souvenir to remember her:
Contrary to popular belief, Indonesia is not a Muslim country, despite having the largest Muslim population in the world. It is in fact a secular state and its constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Sounds good on paper right?
Unfortunately, the religious freedom ends there. Each Indonesian citizen must pick 1 of the 6 recognised state religions (Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism), to be inserted on their National Identity card.
Atheism is not an option and a violation of Indonesian law.
Any open atheism in the public domain is seen as a socially unacceptable ideology, can lead to violence, arrest and imprisonment. In January 2012, Alexander Ann was arrested and convicted to 2.5 years in prison for inciting religious hatred under the electronic information law.
His crime? He posted comments in a (Dutch based) atheist Facebook group arguing why god does not exist!
Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of nutmeg, a popular brown spice mainly used for cooking and also as a medicine (in Grenada) and even as a hallucinogen!
The Portuguese initially found the spice growing on the Banda Islands of Indonesia in 1512. They enjoyed a nutmeg monopoly until the 1800s when the British fought them and won control of the Banda islands. By this point, the savvy French also managed to sneak some out to the West Indies where they now thrive, particularly in Grenada.
Today the nutmeg industry is so big that Indonesia accounts for around 75% of the global nutmeg market.
#10 BALINESE BABY NAMING-MANIA
On Bali island (which is predominantly Hindu), each person receives 1 of 4 names based on birth order, regardless of sex:
– 1st born: Wayan, Gede, Putu and also Ni Luh (for girls only)
– 2nd born: Made, Nengah (means middle) or Kadek (meaning little brother/sister)
– 3rd born: Nyoman or Komang (sometime shortened to Mang)
– 4th born: Ketut (sometimes shortened to Tut)
The 5th born would be called Wayan Balik, literally meaning Wayan again.
To help differentiate between males and females, an ‘I' is added as a prefix for men and ‘Ni' for females. Balinese children are often allowed to choose a name, which is usually influenced by popular culture or politics and this is added to the name concoction.
So the first male born could be called I Wayan Stefan or the 4th born female could be called Ni Ketut Sebastiana.
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