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Indonesian People

About 190 million people live in Indonesia. 108 million of these people are in Java alone. Java is Indonesia's most heavily populated island. Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, is located in Java. Indonesians are a very friendly and curious people. It is common for a complete stranger to ask personal questions. 


The people of Java are generally called Javanese. There are at least two other major groups of people on Java, called the Sundanese (mostly in west Java) and the Madurese (mostly in northeast Java). The religion followed by the people of Java is a curious mix of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. The people of Java believe in numerous good and bad spirits. In particular, the Javanese dagger known as 'Kris' is believed to have magical powers. You will find that people in Java do not like shows of aggression or raised voices. Any loud display of emotion is considered very bad manners indeed.


The people of Bali are Hindus. In Bali, religion plays a very important role in everyday life. This can also be seen in the way Balinese houses have been constructed. There is always a family temple in one corner of the house. You will notice that houses in Bali are surrounded by a high wall and are entered through a gateway in the wall. Do you know why? The Balinese believe that it stops evil spirits from entering the house. It also prevents other people from looking in.


Since transportation is difficult, many of the islands have not been greatly influenced by people from outside. One such island is Irian Jaya. The name Irian Jaya means "victorious hot land." Until recently, cannibalism was practiced on this island. In 1975 the eastern half of this island became an independent country which is known as Papua New Guinea. There are not many people on the island of Irian Jaya, and most of it is covered by rainforests. Forests play a very important part in the lives of the people of Irian Jaya. Women wear skirts made from grass and tree-fibers. Some Irianese live in tree houses built with sticks and leaves. Some houses are built as high as 150 feet above the ground! The Sago palm found in the forest is the tree peoples' main source of food. They make dough out of the palm. Some Irianese also eat beetle-larvae. 


Sumatra is the second most densely populated island in Indonesia. One of the major groups of people in Sumatra is known as the 'Minangkabau'. Most Minangkabau are Muslim. The capital of West Sumatra, where the Minangkabau live is Padang. The Minangkabau are therefore also called 'orang padang' or the padang people. Unlike the United States, Minangkabau society is matriarchial. This means that the eldest living female member of the family has the most power. The Minangkabau are only one of the many groups of people in Sumatra, each of which has its own distinct culture and traditions.