Neil Wade's Photography Blog

Indonesia – Part One

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In all my time living and traveling in Asia, I never had the desire to travel to Indonesia. I don’t know why, but it just didn’t have the appeal to me as much as places like Myanmar, Tibet, Laos, or even Thailand. But, in the summer of 2012, I was assigned to go to Jakarta to photograph an article, and my mind was opened up to Indonesia.

Indonesia is the fourth most populated country in the world with 238 million people. It’s a string of over 17,000 islands that straddle the equator between Southeast Asia and Australia. The people are quite diverse: 87% are Muslim, 9% are Christian, 3% are Hindu, and the rest have too many religions and cultures to count. 742 different languages are spoken throughout the archipelago, but Bahasa Indonesian is a common language understood by all.

My destination this time, was the “main” island of Java, along with a few days of R&R on the famous island of Bali.

Sunrise a the ancient Buddhist temple, Borobudur.

Java

Java is the most populate island in the country. It’s 138 million people are almost entirely muslim, and they speak several different dialects of Javanese. The Javanese culture goes back thousands of years, and I found that they are very proud of their cultural heritage.

You often see becak drivers longing around markets, bus stations, and corners waiting for clients.

These women are making traditional batik clothing in a factory in Solokarta, Indonesia.

The traditional markets in Indonesia were all packed full of batik and other clothing.

The busy market street of Malioboro, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Javanese Culture

Other than the excellent hospitality of the Javanese people, I ran into two interesting aspects of the culture. Javanese gamelan is an orchestra of percussion instruments that plays a very inviting melody. To this beautiful sound, the Javanese often perform a traditional dance. The dances that I saw, all told stories.

A traditional gamelan dancer performs in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

A traditional gamelan dancer performs in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

A sweaty traditional gamelan dancer poses for me in Jogja, Indonesia.

I was invited to see local dancers practicing a traditional gamelan dance in Solo, Indonesia.

An interesting wooden sculpture I found in a shop in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

The traditional market in Yogyakarta, Indonesia is very busy selling all sorts of batik, fabrics, and other clothing items.

The other impression of the island’s culture that will stick with me is the sight of endless, perfectly manicured fields. It seems that everywhere you go, you will see farmers tending their picturesque fields of mostly rice, but also bananas, onions, sugar cane, and even coffee in the east. (Where do you think the term “Java” came from?)

A rice farmer tends his fields near Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

A Javanese farmer takes a break from tending his fields to pose for me in Dieng, Indonesia.

A farmer tends her rice fields in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

I was also lucky enough to visit a very small factory where men were making gongs in the traditional way. They all seemed to do their hot, hard work happily.

I visited a workshop where they were making gongs in the traditional way. This hot, sweaty work is said to produce gongs of a much higher quality than newer, faster methods.

I visited a workshop where they were making gongs in the traditional way. This hot, sweaty work is said to produce gongs of a much higher quality than newer, faster methods.

I visited a workshop where they were making gongs in the traditional way. This hot, sweaty work is said to produce gongs of a much higher quality than newer, faster methods.

A traditional gong workshop workers takes a break in-between sessions of pounding out the gong by hand.

A traditional gong workshop workers takes a break in-between sessions of pounding out the gong by hand.

Javanese Religion

The religion of Java is Islam. Everywhere you go, you see mosques, children in their madras school uniforms, and women wearing hijabs. But, other than the daily 4am wake up calls to prayer, I didn’t find the religion to be too prevalent or obvious. What I mean is, I don’t recall seeing anyone praying during those calls to prayer nor did I see many people at any of the mosques at any time. The average Javanese seems to have a laid back attitude towards their religion, unlike the picture that western media would like to paint of the average Muslim.

People gather to pray and socialize at Asia’s biggest Islamic temple, Masjid Istiqlal.

A man reads the Koran at Asia’s biggest Islamic temple, Masjid Istiqlal.

Solokarta had some nice, traditional streets to walk around. These girls are walking home from their madrasa.

Historical Javanese Religion

Throughout history, Java has seen many religions come and go. From the animistic religions of prehistory (still practiced in some of the outlying islands), to modern Islam, the island has also seen a strong influence of Buddhism and Hinduism.

Borobudur

Built in the 9th century, this Buddhist monument is one of the three ancient wonders of the Buddhist world (along with Bagan in Myanmar, and Ankor Wat in Cambodia).

Sunrise a the ancient Buddhist temple, Borobudur.

Sunrise a the ancient Buddhist temple, Borobudur.

Walking on the nice paths around Borobudur, I saw this man climbing a palm tree… Couldn’t really figure out what he was doing though.

At all the famous sites around Java, you run into people, especially students, who came there just to practice English with foreigners. This girl’s English was particularly good, and she was quite a smooth talker!

This photo really doesn’t fit in with the other travel images from Indonesia, but it is the best butterfly photo I ever shot! :)

Prambanan

The Prambanan Hindu temple was built about 50 years after Borobudur, and dedicated to the Hindu Gods. It actually bears a remarkable resemblance to Ankor Wat and it and its surrounding temples were an interesting place to explore for the day

Prambanan Temple is very reminiscent of Ankor Wat, in Cambodia.

This ends part one of my series of photo essays on Indonesia.  Part Two includes images of Indonesia’s volcanoes Mount Bromo and the Ijen Sulfur Mines.

Cheers,
-Neil

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