It’s been a festive time here in Indonesia! On August 17th 2017, the country shut down to celebrate and remember the reading of the Proclamation of Independence in 1945.

But First, Some History

In 1945 Indonesia was occupied by the Japanese. But the proclamation was to denounce Dutch rule. Confused? Read a little bit of history here. The Dutch had long held a grasp over Indonesia, but the Japanese had certainly made their own mark. Allied forces however had pushed back Japanese just months prior to the proclamation reading and Indonesia was worried about the returning Dutch rule. The nation had long had clashes and violence both among themselves which the Dutch often had a history of stepping in to exploit to their advantage. Now that the Japanese were on their way out, the return of the Dutch was a strong possibility. The proclamation was ridiculously short, which I think is great and to the point.


Want to learn more about Japanese occupation? Read more here. Japanese rule was notably more demanding and rigorous for the Indonesian community. In fact, there are two military caverns Goa Belanda (Dutch cave) and Goa Jepang (Japanese cave) in my favorite park of Taman Hutan Raya in northern Bandung. The Japanese cave has an admittedly eerie feeling to it that the former does not. It’s rumored that the Japanese forced Indonesians to build it and then killed them all inside when they were done. Meanwhile, the Dutch occupation had more likely utilized the Indonesians for continued labor or set them loose. Indonesian history is very bloody. Don’t believe me? Just watch The Act of Killing.

Our Experience

The day of turns into one, large simultaneous celebration across millions of streets. Every neighborhood essentially has their own block party. In the days leading up to the date, there are tons of white and red flags and other decorations strung up on lamp posts, across gates, and street entrances. Women get together and pool money to buy gifts for the children and organize games. Our block party went a little something like this:


Part of the Puzzled Pilgrim team had grown up with these games and was happy to relive some of the festivities as an adult. What was Puzzling to me became clear from Rio’s descriptions of his experiences as a kid, as well as watching the events among our own neighborhood children.

Children try to pick up coated peanut snacks using chopsticks
Timed competition using popular snack kacang bersalut (coated peanuts)

We lived in an apartment complex last year that didn’t host any games. There was a small buffet provided by the complex which we came down for and met a few other neighbors. I much preferred our celebration this year. The whole neighborhood came out to participate in one way or another. By the way, our neighborhood is a small gated collection of about 25 households.

Children playing on bikes, one blowing up a green balloon
In the morning the kids helped get the decorations under way

The kids got small gift bags with goodies inside. This is a pretty typical way to gift party favors and even celebrate birthdays here in Indonesia. For a birthday party- the person (or parents if it is a child) give away gifts and celebrate their birth by giving to others. After the birth of our child, we will be putting together similar bags for those around us, as well as prepared meals to be delivered to adults. It’s a great change from American culture to experience although very disorienting at first. This is the bag put together for the children for Hari Kemerdekaan! Chocolate snacks, puddings, fruit juice, chips… my my my they certainly have it all.

Small clear plastic bag with snacks
I spy oreos

The celebration wouldn’t be complete without the games! They are mainly for children but certainly, a handful of adults will partake in a few as well. Some of the most popular ones include a bike race. Except the object isn’t to get to the finish line first- it’s to be last! Participants balance, twist and turn their way in attempts to stay on their bike and inch forward as slowly as possible.


Three kids try to stay on their bikes the longest
It’s a funny kind of anti-race
Three kids try to stay stya on their bikes the longest
We all need some help sometimes
Children try to pick up coated peanut snacks using chopsticks
Timed competition using popular snack kacang bersalut (coated peanuts)

Food was ever present! We had a mid-day pot luck for our hungry bellies. This photo was shot by one of the neighbors from their cell phone. Oh look, the Puzzled Pilgrim team in their natural habitat.

Men and women serving themselves lunch
Neighborhood eating potluck lunch together on Hari Kemerdekaan

The men were gathered together at a table playing mahjong part of the day, using cell phone sim cards as chips. This was most likely due to the fact that gambling is considered haram, aka forbidden, by Muslims. It’s possible to still play though if no one is really winning any money or you don’t profit from the game itself. My husband has embraced my family’s Christmas gambling game “Left, Right, Center” by donating his proceeds. My grandfather also gave everyone lotto tickets as stocking stuffers and if Rio ever wins, he’s said he’ll donate the money as well.

Group of men plays mahjong around a wooden table
Mahjong among the men

Some of the games we did in our neighborhood was a rice sack race (similar to potato sack race), bike racing, balancing marbles in spoons, and eating without your hands!

Krupuk is tied to strings for children to try and eat without their hands
Krupuk, is a fried shrimp cracker and popular snack

It was an incredibly festive day. What I really enjoy about Indonesian culture is the sense of immediate community and shared an identity that comes when you live in a neighborhood. This can feel rather invasive at times. But the anxiety and sense of guilt or shame I felt when I asked a neighbor for help in America just doesn’t exist here. You WILL get to know your neighbors. They WILL come around and drop off food or chat you up while you’re gardening. It can feel a little odd against the stone cold evasion that Americans tend to develop. We pull in to our garages and we shut our curtains hoping no one tries to make eye contact during those 45 seconds we come out of our house to collect mail. I much prefer the sense of communication, belonging, and community that my neighborhood has.

Group of Indonesian neighbors sitting and watching the games
Watching the games

So there you have it! Now if you’re ever around on August 17th, you’ll know what to expect. Bandung was also lucky enough this year to host the national parade that is hosted in honor of the Independence Day. Be sure to stay tuned for a shot of the slum-born Indonesian president Jokowi, brilliant costumes, and some stunning representation we caught on camera from the major islands and people of Indonesia’s diverse background.

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