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Indonesian Independence Day Posted by on Aug 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

Today is Indonesia’s Independence Day, known as Hari Kemerdekaan Republik Indonesia (Hari Merdeka for short) in Indonesian. To better understand this important Indonesian holiday, here’s some background information as well as modern day customs and celebrations:


Declaring Indonesian independence.

Declaring Indonesian independence.

At 10 AM on August 17th, 1945, the Proclamation of Indonesian Independence (Proklamasi Kemerdekaan Indonesia) was read in Jakarta at the home of Sukarno, who would go on to become the first president. This was far different from the Declaration of Independence in the United States – the American version was over 1,000 words and was signed by 56 people, while the Indonesian version was only a few sentences long and signed by two people. Here’s the full text of the final version in Indonesian and English:


Kami, bangsa Indonesia, dengan ini menjatakan kemerdekaan Indonesia.

Hal-hal jang mengenai pemindahan kekoeasaan d.l.l., diselenggarakan dengan tjara saksama dan dalam tempo jang sesingkat-singkatnja.

Djakarta, hari 17 boelan 8 tahoen 05

Atas nama bangsa Indonesia,



We the people of Indonesia hereby declare the independence of Indonesia. Matters which concern the transfer of power and other things will be executed by careful means and in the shortest possible time.

Jakarta, 17 August 1956

In the name of the people of Indonesia,


Silent video of celebrations on August 17, 1945.

The reading of this declaration launched the Indonesian National Revolution, a resistance to Dutch colonization that was both diplomatic and armed. It came just two days after the Japanese officially surrendered to the Allies to end World War II, thus ending their occupation of what was then known as the Dutch East Indies. Thanks to Indonesian radio personnel, the declaration was secretly broadcast across the country, and an English version was transmitted overseas.

After four years, the Dutch finally acknowledged Indonesia’s independence in 1949. However, it took until 2005 for them to accept August 17th as the official date. Despite this, the UN still considers December 27th 1949 as Indonesian Independence Day.

Customs and Celebrations

Indonesian Independence Day - from Catriona Ward on

Indonesian Independence Day – from Catriona Ward on

Preparations for the big day begin weeks in advance, as the entire country is covered in red and white banners and lights. The phrase “Long live Indonesia” (Dirgahayu Republik Indonesia) can be seen everywhere in August, as a wave of patriotism sweeps over the archipelago nation. In newspapers and magazines, editorials are written about the country’s progress since achieving independence and what needs to be improved upon. Shows and movies highlighting the struggle for independence are shown, and musical performances are held and broadcast all across the country. Communities also get together to clean up the neighborhood (kerja bakti) in preparation for the big day. The president will deliver a State of the Union Address on the day before the festival as well – this year Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will deliver his final address as his term is coming to an end.

On the big day, the president leads the flag raising ceremony at the State Palace. It’s a grand event, as fighter jets fly above and the entire country tunes in. Hundreds of honored guests are in attendance for the ceremony, and high school students from all over Indonesia are chosen to participate in this important celebration.

Some highlights of last year’s Independence Day celebrations.

When the big show is all said and done, people gather for friendly neighborhood competitions. There’s a shrimp cracker (kerupuk) eating contest, where the participants have to race with hands tied behind their back to eat a giant cracker hanging from a string. When it comes to Independence Day, though, it’s hard to beat panjat pinang. This game is for guys only, and it involves scaling a greased up palm tree to retrieve the prizes hanging above. Crowds gather to watch the hilarity unfold, as groups of men do their best to climb up a slippery tree. Just see for yourself:

Grown men try to climb a lubed up tree – what an awesome holiday celebration.

There’s plenty to keep you busy before, during, and after the actual holiday. On the Sunday after the big day, a parade is held that begins at the National Monument (Monas) and continues through Jakarta. Even though this is very much an Indonesian holiday, foreigners are welcomed and encouraged to participate in the festivities. Check out some photos from the celebration that went down today in this article.

Practice your listening skills and learn more about this important holiday.


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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.