Story: Indonesians

In Indonesian batik designs, chrysanthemums and grapes signify the Dutch influence, bright filigree birds are of Chinese origin, and geometric patterns are Islamic. New Zealand’s Indonesians also represent such a blending of cultures: Dutch colonials, Javanese, Sundanese (from West Java), Sumatrans, and Chinese.

Story by Carl Walrond
Main image: Mr Widiyanto holds a Javanese shadow puppet

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A Dutch colony

For centuries Indonesia was a colony of the Netherlands, known as the Dutch East Indies. It was renamed the Republic of Indonesia when it became independent in 1949.

Population and ethnicities

Relatively few people born in Indonesia have settled in New Zealand. Indonesian migrants have come from three main groups:

  • Dutch colonials. From the late 1940s there was a big influx of Dutch immigrants after Indonesia became independent.
  • Indonesians from Java and Sumatra. Many in this group came as students in the 1960s. Some in this group came as students in the 1960s. There was a new wave of arrivals in the 1990s. 
  • Chinese Indonesians. These were mainly businesspeople who came in the late 1960s and again in the 1990s.

In 2013, 4,914 New Zealand people had been born in Indonesia, and 4,127 stated that their ethnicity was Indonesian. Most lived in Auckland. The majority were Christian, and around one-third were Muslim.


There are Indonesian community groups, and organisations to promote friendship between New Zealanders and Indonesians. Indonesian Independence Day is celebrated each year on 17 August.

Bahasa Indonesia is the most commonly spoken Indonesian language in New Zealand. There is a rich variety of music, arts, crafts and cuisine. Gamelan orchestras have been set up at Victoria and Otago universities, and gamelan music has influenced New Zealand composers.

Indonesian dishes such as nasi goreng (fried rice) and gado gado (salad with peanut sauce) are popular with New Zealanders.

How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'Indonesians', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 July 2024)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 8 February 2005, reviewed & revised 1 August 2015