Indonesian Culture


In collectivist cultures such as Indonesia, families are perceived as having a collective face. In this sense, the act of an individual will impact the perception of one’s entire family by others. Therefore, individuals should strive to give their family a good name and honour their parents. They are also expected to be loyal to their family before any other connections.

Indonesian culture stresses that people are socially responsible for their families and that children must look after their elders. For example, they may have to work away from home to provide financial assistance or give up their leisure time to raise siblings. On one hand, this pressure can be restrictive for young Indonesians as much time is consumed with family duties. However, their loyalty is rewarded with a sense of security and reciprocal assistance when needed.

The nuclear family is the newly predominant household structure as it has become more common for couples to only have two children. Elder grandparents or unmarried siblings may join the domestic unit as personal circumstances change. The links an Indonesian person maintains with their extended family overseas are much closer than those maintained by most people in Western societies. 

Age determines status in the household hierarchy with children expected to be obedient and doting to their parents. The father or oldest male is usually the patriarch while women take care of domestic duties. Women have the ability to forge their own careers, and have more rights than women in some other Islamic countries in regard to property, inheritance and divorce. However, most of Indonesian society is still patriarchal and many wives will attribute their success to their husbands ‘allowing’ them to be successful.

There are a few indigenous populations (around 8 'groups') still practising a matriarchal system within their culture. In these communities, authority lies with the females. Examples include Minangkabau in West Sumatra and Enggano in Bengkulu.

Relationships and Marriage
Marriage indicates full adulthood in Indonesia, and people are often pressured and probed about their marital status. They are often asked, “Are you married yet?”. The response is either “yes” or “not yet”; answers always allude to the notion that it will happen imminently or eventually. People do not usually marry those of different ethnicities in Indonesia; however, it is becoming more common in the urban areas. 

Arranged marriages are still prevalent in rural Indonesia, with many women marrying by the time they’re 20 years old. In accordance to Islamic values, an Indonesian man can have up to four wives if he can prove that he can provide for them equally. However, though it is allowed, polygamy is uncommon in Indonesia. 

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