Indonesian Language Blog

Colors In Indonesian Culture Posted by on Aug 25, 2016 in Uncategorized

Color plays an integral role in Indonesian lives and society.  Color is intertwined with traditions, customs, and beliefs in the country. As citizens of one of the world’s most culturally and ethnically diverse countries (450 languages and over 300 ethnic groups), Indonesians interpret color in a unique way.  It culturally extends the ideas of group identity, social class division, and religious belonging. In some ethnic groups, it is believed that certain colors have a healing power and the ability to protect against evil spirits.

Despite differences in cultures, society shares an understanding of color and associates color with nature and the human body, such as the sun, trees, Earth, blood, or bones. Three dominant colors are black, red, and white, which symbolize eminence/death, life, and purity. However red and white, the colors of Indonesian flag, are considered the sacred colors of the nation as they represent the sacrifice and the struggle of the people striving toward their independence. The colors of red and white stand for courageous and the spiritual life, or pure.

The following demonstrates some Indonesian ethnic cultures by the significant uses of different colors:

Toraja, an ethnic group indigenous to a mountainous region of South Sulawesi, practices animism. They recognize only four colors: yellow, red, black, and white, which they believe represent God, human beings, life, and death. Colors are used to paint houses and on carvings and tools used for preparing food and also for ceremonial items.

Makassar, an ethnic group that inhabits the southern part of the South Peninsula, Sulawesi, uses color in women’s traditional clothing, which is known as Baju Bodo. The color differences are used to differentiate the age,  and marital status of the wearers.

Dayak, an ethnic group indigenous to Kalimantan, uses colorful beads of red, yellow, green, blue and white. Dayaks believe that the right combination of bead materials and colors provide energy and are a source of strength, cure diseases, detox animal poisons, protect the community, and ensure a successful harvest. The beads could be used as repellents or reinforcements against the repulsive power of evil spirits. The most sought-after beads may exalt their owners.

As a Muslim majority country, green is an official color associated with Islam and courtrooms. Therefore, in Bahasa Indonesia, the verb “memejahijaukan,” which literally means to take someone to the “green table,” as in taking someone to court.

Colors play a significant role in our lives more than we think; although there are differences in the perception of colors across cultures, they share an understanding that colors have a language that we can use to talk to each other.

Related words and idioms in Indonesian

Indonesian English
warna color
suku bangsa ethnic group
budaya culture
memiliki kekuatan to have magical force
kalung manik-manik/mute beaded neclace
berani courageous
suci pure
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About the Author: asimonoff

I’m an Indonesian language instructor, instructional material developer, reading test developer, and interpreter. I have been teaching Indonesian to adult students for 15 years, and have been teaching students from many backgrounds, such as private, military and diplomatic service employees. I’m Indonesian, but am living in the US now; my exposure to different cultures in my home country and in the US has enriched my knowledge in teaching Indonesian as a second language. I approach the teaching of the Indonesian language by developing students’ critical cultural awareness and competence. This method of teaching has been proven to be a key to the success of my students. Students become conscious of the essential role culture plays in the language.