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Communities in Indonesia

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The vast populations of Indonesia consist of 210 million people belonging to 500 ethnic groups and speaking 600 languages. The spirit of cultural unity in Indonesia is inherent in ethnic diversity, which is also exhibited through the national slogan, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, unity in diversity. The meaning of Tunggal Ika (unity) was taken to be a unified standardized attempt, which was made the focus of Bhinneka (diversity) during the New Order time. Attempts were made to reduce the focus on ethnic identity via government policies and programs on development stressing on unity.

It was considered a risky proposition to undermine unity for the sake of ethnic identity. During the time of President Suharto, political initiatives were taken to reduce the impact of ethnic identity by not recognizing the acclaimed SARA (Suku, Agama, Ras dan Antar Golongan, denoting ethnic group, religion, race, and group-based interest) in socio-political bodies and discussions to promote unity efforts in socio-political aspects (Bangun, 1999). Unifying National Culture A common name desa, a Javanese term for territory, was assigned by the government to refer to the land of each ethnic community though communities were identified by their own names to show their region.

By using the new name, desa, the government achieved the desired effect visible in the socio-political systems including education. All students have a uniform syllabus irrespective of their surroundings and climate. The government recognized only selected religions like Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Change in traditional customs and traditions from ethnic to recognize religions were welcomed by the government. People even changed their consumption habits. Rice became the staple food and was grown in plenty to replace maize and cassava.

Besides, intensive rice farming practices and monoculture plantations in the exterior areas of the islands were promoted to replace other land uses such as swidden (slash-and-burn) agriculture and agro-forestry. The unifying national culture was attempted at the cost of affecting communities’ culture as a distinct system being discarded even in artistic expressions and functions (Bangun, 1999).

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