Independence Day: Participate in the celebration

Independence Day

The month of August is special for Indonesia. It was on the 17th of August 1945 that Indonesia proclaimed its independence. The whole month sees many celebrations, the peak of which is on the 17th, Independence Day. Here is what you need to know about Indonesia’s special day!


Indonesia was colonized by the Portuguese, Spanish, English, and Dutch starting in the 16th century. Then it was occupied by Japan in World War II. Independence was a hard won victory for Indonesia. Naturally, the celebration of Independence Day is an event filled with civic pride and nationalism.

Indonesia’s first President, Soekarno, along with his first vice-president Mohammad Hatta, proclaimed Indonesia’s independence on the 17th of August 1945. What followed was a 4-year fight for independence. It only ended after the Dutch recognized Indonesia’s independence on the 27th of December 1949.

Preparations around Independence Day

The month of August will see a surge of the national colors of red and white everywhere. Also, other national symbols will appear. For example, the national emblem, Garuda Pancasila. Government offices and businesses will decorate, some of them elaborately.

If your house has a yard, it is customary to fly the national flag in front of it. Further decorations such as buntings and banners are also common. Cars are decorated with small flags. Naturally you will see street vendors selling these for your convenience. Nowadays LED and other lighted decorations are also common.

Indonesia is a very communal society. Hence, your community may organize communal work (kerja bakti). For example, sprucing up the neighborhood for the special day. This includes trimming plants, repainting community assets and cleaning out gutters. Sometimes there will also be invitation for social work (bakti sosial). This could include visiting an orphanage or helping the less fortunate. It is a great way to help your community and show civic pride.

Independence Day

Independence Day, or Hari Kemerdekaan, usually starts with a flag rising ceremony. This will be held by every major government office. Most noteworthy of course is the one at the Presidential Palace. This ceremony is usually carried live on TV. In it, the National Flag Hoisting Troop, or Paskibraka, raise the flag in front of the President and other dignitaries. Paskibraka consists of high school students from all around Indonesia.

Flag ceremony
Independence Day traditions: Flag raising ceremony. (, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Marble Race
Independence Day Traditions: Marble Race (, CC BY-SA 2.0)

After the flag rising, people will have traditional contests in their community. The most popular one is the Panjat Pinang. Here an oiled Areca tree trunk or a pole is topped with many prizes. People then try to climb the trunk and win any prize they can grab.

In addition, other popular contests are:

  • Lari Karung. Traditional sack racing.
  • Lomba Makan Krupuk. Shrimp cracker eating contest. However, the crackers are hanging from a string. Further, the contestant have their hands tied in the back.
  • Lari Kelereng. Race while holding a marble on a spoon in your mouth. Dropping the marble means losing.
Panjat Pinang
Independence Day traditions: Panjat Pinang (, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Independence Day Symbolism

There are a few symbols that you will see popping up, among them:

  • Red and White flags and decorations. They are the colors of the national flag. Officially the Sang Saka Merah Putih (meaning “lofty bi-color Red and White”).
  • The national emblem, Garuda Pancasila. It is a garuda bird with the Pancasila shield hanging around its neck. Also, it is clutching the national motto Bhinneka Tunggal Ika.
  • The Bambu Runcing or sharpened bamboo. This symbolizes the fight for independence. During the war, Indonesian fighters were almost always outgunned. As a result, they often fought only with sharpened bamboo sticks. This is where this symbolism comes from.
  • The words Dirgahayu Republik Indonesia. It means Long Live Indonesia. Dirgahayu, derived from Sanskrit, means long lived.

Other Independence Day Traditions

Nasi Tumpeng
Independence Day traditions: Nasi Tumpeng (, CC BY 2.0)
  • Brunches. Celebrate with a tumpeng meal! The traditional Javanese rice dish. A feast for all the senses.
  • Remission. Model inmates will receive a reduction in sentence.
  • Sales. Stores usually have sales, taking advantage of the festive spirit.
  • Open Houses. Many public figures, offices and embassies abroad will have open houses.
  • Historical Movies. TV stations will have play historical movies. A good time to learn about Indonesian history.
  • The Presidents annual speech at the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR). This speech reviews the government’s achievement of the past year, and outlines their goals of the coming year.


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About dafluff 33 Articles
Dafluff is a second generation expat in Indonesia. His parents, being a mixed WNA-WNI couple, moved the entire family to Bali in the early 80s. He was educated in the Indonesian national school system, then obtained engineering degrees in the US and lived in the US and Canada. A relatively recent returnee to Indonesia, he has benefited greatly from the online expat community, and is working hard to return the favor.