Living Cultures

Indonesia, is one country formed by a giant archipellago of more than 17,000 islands. Biodiversity wise this makes it phenomenal. We have so many different geographic ecosystems, and in these areas a huge diversity of cultures thrive.

Indonesia is globally known as a “mega-biodiversity” country. At the same time it is also an ultra-rich country in terms of it’s cultural heritage. Both are inter-related. How so? Lets take a closer look at what culture trully means.

Culture is the knowledge and characteristic of a group of people or community involving language, habits, arts, cuisine, music, erchitecture, fashion, different methods of farming or fishing, religion, and so much more. Culture can also be considered as shared patterns of behaviors and interactions, cognitive constructs and understanding that are learned by socialization, these are handed down from generation to generation. Thus, it can be seen as the growth of a group identity fostered by social patterns unique to the group. 

To stay alive a people’s culture is ever evolving, adapting and changing and growing and even influencing. It is important for Indonesia to keep it’s rich cultural heritage alive, evolving, growing and even influencing the world to make it a better place. We can not do this without protecting our biodiversity wealth.

For example, as the ulin tree, known as Eusideroxylon zwageri in Latin, dissapears from the Kalimantan island landscape due to aggressive conversion of natural forests into mines, palm oil plantations, urban areas and other uses, so does the beautiful traditional shingle roof made from ulin timber. While in East Nusa Tenggara Islands, with landscapes dominated by “alang-alang” or Imperata cylindrica Raeusch grass savanas, the roofs were traditionally made from this grass. As more and more natural grasslands are transformed into cultivated farmlands it becomes more difficult to find the grass and more and more roofs are now made from tin. As biodiversity is lost, so dies the knowledge of how to utilize biodiversity in a culture. And the language in the culture will also be changed forever.

Biodiversity also plays an important role in creating the richness of Indonesia’s cuisine. Lets take for example “sei” or smoked meat from East Nusa Tenggara. This smoked meat is created by curing meat using smoke which is seasoned with young red coloured “kosambi” or Schleichera oleosa leaves. This tree grows endemically in the province of NTT. The leaves give a nice pinkish red color and distinctive taste to the smoked meat from this area. While in Minangkabau, West Sumatra,

people have traditionally preserved meat by cooking it with coconut milk and chillies. A famous dish known as Rendang.

Biodiversity also influences the textiles and fashion cultures of Indonesia’s divers enthic groups. From the fibers used, the colors developed, and the motifs used in textiles.

The above are only a few examples. Indonesia is a country of great cultural diversity, traditionally we value this diversity as reflected in the nations motto “Bhineka Tunggal Ika” in diversity we are united. A valuable motto indeed. Because this wealth in diversity is very valuable as an asset which can be translated into economic wealth and growth in the 21 st century.