Home to two hundred million people – the fourth most populous country in the world – more than three hundred ethnic groups call Indonesia home. Their own cultures, traditions, customs, and languages enrich this diverse country. It has an eclectic mix of festivals and cultural events that attract locals and tourists from all over the world. Almost every province has its own unique specialty worth exploring.
Although there are 707 languages spoken in Indonesia, you only need to learn Indonesian, as it is the most widely used language in the country.
Here are some that you don’t want to miss.
Taking place in a small town on the western coast of West Sumatra in a province called Pariaman, Tabuik is the core event in West Sumatra’s tourism calendar. It celebrates the Moslem Asyura on the tenth of Muharram (the first month in the Islamic calendar), and each of those ten days involves a set of ritual requirements that must be met. Tabuik was first celebrated in 1831.
In spite of its religious origin, Tabuik is also Pariaman’s main tourist attraction.
2. Danau Toba Festival
The Ministry of Tourism considers this festival to be the country's biggest tourism event. Danau Toba (Lake Toba) is the world’s largest volcanic lake, located in North Sumatra province, and the event aims to make it the “new” Bali. First held in the 1980s, this week-long festival features Batak cultural performances with canoe races and other artistic shows.
3- Krakatau Festival
First held in 1991, the Krakatau Festival is the largest annual event in Lampung province. It commemorates the eruption of Mount Krakatoa, an earth-shattering explosion that lad to global climate changes and filled the air with ash that lasted for days.
The event is held from June to October each year.
4. Jember Fashion Carnival
Jember is a city in East Java, and this festival is the pinnacle of its contemporary culture. Despite being small, the city has drawn international attention from fashion enthusiasts with a unique fashion carnival where local fashion designers display their collections on a 3.6 km long catwalk.
5- Yadnya Kasada
The Hindu Tengger people hold an “offering” ceremony for Sang Hyang Widhi on the fourteenth day of the Kasada month in the Javanese calendar. This ceremony takes place at Pura Luhur Poten, a sacred area located at the foot of Mount Bromo in the East Java province.
6- Reog Ponorogo Festival
Held in Ponorogo City Square, people wear traditional costumes along with large tiger or peacock masks for this festival. The Reog Ponorogo Festival has a fascinating spiritual theme where the participants act like they are possessed. It is typically celebrated to welcome the Islamic New Year.
Held every April at Pagatan, Tanah Bumbu Regency in the South Kalimantan province, this festival symbolizes gratefulness towards God for his blessings on the Bugis Pagatan people. “Mappanretase” is a word in the Bugis language that means “feeding the sea.” Fishing boats carrying offerings, such as bananas, sticky rice or chickens, and sail to the center point of the beach before the procession continues.
8- Erau Festival
A ceremonial feast of the Kutai Kingdom, the first Erau festival took place in 1305 and is usually held at Tenggarong of the East Kalimantan province. It begins with the worship of ancestors and an offering of thanks for their protection, and also includes several rituals aiming to purge evil influences from the area.
With the demise of the Kutai Kingdom in 1960, the region became autonomous and now refers to itself as the “Kutai Kartenegara Regency.” Nowadays, the festival is hosted almost annually in September to celebrate the anniversary of Tenggarong city.
9- Tomohon Flower Festival
First held in 2006, this flower festival takes place in the beautiful hill town of Tomohon in the North Sulawesi province. Since 2014, the government has made it an annual event. It typically draws international visitors.
The festival consists of four major events: Art & culture performances, floriculture exhibitions, then the Queen of Flowers and the Tournament of Flowers. The Tournament of Flowers is a magnificent flower parade in which decorative and aromatic vehicles pass through the main streets of Tomohon.
10- Rambu Solo Festival
Tana Toraja means “The Land of Toraja,” referring to a highland in the South Sulawesi province, and the Toraja people celebrate it between July and September. The ritual's purpose is to show respect to the spirits of the dead by performing certain funeral rites that mark their new journey to the afterworld, thus preventing misfortunes from happening to the deceased family members.
The festival is alternatively referred to as the Toraja Funeral Ceremony.
11- Baliem Valley Festival
This festival is held in the Baliem Valley of the Papua province during August. It brings together all the diverse tribes from the highlands of Wamena and the Baliem Valley, such as the Dani, Lani and the Yali tribes, for a celebratory mock war. The tribes believe that war is not just about conflict, but also a symbol of fertility and prosperity. This festival has been particularly popular with professional photographers, who capture some incredible tribal photographs.
12- Asmat Cultural Festival
The UNESCO World Heritage Sites recognized and listed the Asmat Cultural Festival as one of the country's most important cultural events. Taking place in Asmat Regency at the southern end of Papua facing the Arafuru Sea, it aims to preserve the cultural heritage of the Asmat Papuan tribe. Tourists can enjoy traditional music, dances, and a woodcarvings auction.
Nyepi is the day that marks the beginning of the New Year for the Balinese people. It is calculated based on the Balinese calendar and usually celebrated in March, but the exact date may change from year to year. Everything is closed on Nyepi while the Balinese people fast and meditate. Rituals, ceremonies and prayers mark this important celebration.
Pasola is one of many attractions in West Sumba, East Nusa Tenggara Island, celebrated several days after a full moon in February and March. Pasola is the name of an ancient war ritual in which two groups of selected Sumba men ride colorfully decorated horses and throw spears at their opponents, trying to unseat them. The festival gives thanks to the ancestral spirits of the local people.
15- Bau Nyale Fishing Festival
In the Sasak language, “bau nyale” means “to catch nyale,” a worm-like fish found in tropical water. This festival takes place in the tenth month of the Sasak calendar each year (corresponding to February or March) and takes place on Lombok Island. It is difficult to predict when the nyale will appear, so anticipation builds and builds until the first sighting. From there, the nyale that are caught will then be steamed, fried, or roasted in banana leaves – or even eaten raw.
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