Made up of over 13,000 islands of which just under half are inhabited, Indonesia is a fascinating country with its own wonders and local weirdness. It is a popular country to visit and Jakarta is a prominent business hub in Asia and, perhaps, the first weird thing about Indonesia is its name. Indonesia is actually Greek from the words Indos and nesos that literally mean “Indian Islands”. But what else makes Indonesia a wonderful place to visit?
Indonesia is home to the beautiful and serene Lake Toba that is the size of Singapore. In North Sumatra, Lake Toba is about 100km long and 30km wide and is a very popular tourist attraction. But don’t be too drawn into the beauty, the serenity and peace of the mountain lake hides a secret. Lake Toba is the largest Volcanic lake anywhere in the world. Like most countries in the world it is often not the country that is weird but the people and their traditions. Speaking to the locals in Indonesia will unearth some wonderful and strangely bizarre traditions, language always opens up a few hidden doors when traveling here are just a few.
Walking with the Dead. One of the weirdest Indonesian traditions is also among the creepiest anywhere in the world and is perhaps not one for those who are just a little bit sensitive. Tucked away among the mountains of Tana Toraja, the Toraja tribe have a bizarre ritual, a family reunion of sorts, that is said to bring blessings to those who take part. Every August, the Toraja tribe exhume the bodies of their long dead, and not so long dead, loved ones and relatives and spend some time with them. They dress and groom the corpses in new, clean clothes and then take them for a stroll around their village. If you are ever in the area in August and you see a man walking a dead person don’t be afraid, consider yourself lucky but remember these people are dead so even the most fluent Indonesian speaker won’t be able to communicate.
If the dead is just a little bit too much for you then why not head to Banten, West Java and watch, or try to watch the art of Debus. Debus is a rather freaky, dangerous and yet fascinating part of Martial Arts that is said to demonstrate the proof of invulnerability through faith in God. Participants practice a variety of self-harming techniques such as slicing with knives, eating fire or broken glass and sticking needles in cheeks and other parts of the body. The idea is to walk away unharmed. Try speaking some Indonesian and you may find out some of the secrets.
Buffalo in the Streets. No death, near death or blood on this weird and wonderful tradition performed by farmers in Banyuwangi, East Java. No real buffalos are used in the wonderful Kebo Keboan Ritual that is performed with people dressed up as the main work animal for many farmers in appreciation of a good harvest. Buffalo are regarded in high esteem by local farmers as they plough their fields and play an important part in local farming this event honours them. The ritual of Kebo Keboan is a fun filled event, full of laughter with some of the “buffalo” going completely crazy in the streets after one or two too many drinks.
This handful of Indonesian wonders are part of the real Indonesia that not many tourists get to see. However, if you learn to speak Indonesian these and many more weird, wonderful and even hidden gems will come your way, simply because you can speak, listen and understand. After all, understanding other cultures is very much a reason why different places are visited.
Travelling is an exciting opportunity which can be enhanced by learning the language before you go. This blog contains some interesting articles about language and travel.