17th August Indonesian Independence Day

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Bendera Merah PutihEvery year on 17th August Indonesians throughout the country celebrate Independence Day. It is a very meaningful holiday as Indonesia had a hard-fought struggle to win its freedom. After being colonized by the Dutch for 350 years, the Indonesian islands were occupied by the Japanese during World War II.

Two days after the Japanese surrender to the Allies, on 17th August 1945, Indonesia's independence was declared by Sukarno and Hatta, who became the first President and Vice President respectively. Sukarno read out the proclamation in front of his home in Central Jakarta before a small group of people, and it was broadcast by radio to all parts of the country.Sukarno's wife, Ibu Fatmawati, had sewn the first Indonesian flag the previous evening and it was raised officially for the first time, while the national anthem “Indonesia Raya” was sung by the assembled group. The red, white and blue striped flag of the Netherlands was flown in Indonesia throughout its colonization. During the struggle for independence the Indonesian freedom fighters used to tear off the blue stripe from the Dutch flag, so the Indonesian flag comprises a red half at the top and white underneath. These colors symbolize bravery and purity. 17th August is celebrated each year as a national holiday. A solemn official flag-raising ceremony is held at the State Palace attended by the President, Vice-President, cabinet ministers, government officials, military leaders, members of the diplomatic corps and honored guests. This is echoed throughout the country as each province and district also holds a ceremony comprising raising the flag, reading the original text of the Proclamation of Independence and singing "Indonesia Raya".

Climbing the Greasy PoleSeveral weeks before the holiday there will be a lot of effort put into cleaning up the main streets as well as residential neighborhoods. Main roads and buildings start to be decorated with red and white bunting and decorative lighting as well as banners with wording expressing congratulations and long life to the country. Indonesian flags are erected in front of homes with smaller versions on cars and other vehicles. Gapura or ceremonial gateways are erected at the ends of streets or lanes.

However it is in the kampungs (neighborhoods or villages) that Independence Day is celebrated with great joy and enthusiasm. Each local community collects donations from residents to fund the celebration. Traditional games, competitions and races are held for both children and adults, such as sack races, 3-legged races, krupuk (shrimp chip) eating contests, decorated bicycle contests. There is often a competition for men or women to cook the most delicious and attractively presented nasi goreng (fried rice) or nasi tumpeng (decorated rice cone). The highlight of the competitions is the panjat pinang. A tall straight trunk of the areca palm is smoothed and greased, then erected with a bamboo canopy at the top, to which various attractive prizes are attached. Teams of young men endeavor to climb up the greasy trunk to grab a prize, providing an atmosphere of great hilarity and fun for the whole community. In some areas greasy poles are placed across rivers or canals and pairs of contestants have mock pillow fights causing one or both contestants to fall in the water, causing much laughter among the crowds watching. The day may come to an end with loudspeakers playing the popular dangdut music while some of the locals join in singing and dancing.

2010 marks the 65th anniversary of Indonesia's independence, but as the date falls during Ramadhan fasting month this year, celebrations may be somewhat muted compared to previous years.

As an expatriate resident of Jakarta, your participation in the festivities would be welcomed by most Indonesians. You could make a donation to help fund the neighborhood activities near your home or factory. You could even sponsor a picnic for your employees and their families or organize a children's activities day at the factory. Your Indonesian neighbors will welcome you to watch and take photos or join in the fun activities they have planned.


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