Story: Indonesians

Page 2. Culture

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In 2013, 28.5% of people in New Zealand with Indonesian ethnicity were Muslim, 23.2% were Catholic and 11.9% belonged to Presbyterian, Congregational or Reformed churches. Another 11.9% had no religion. By contrast, in Indonesia most of the population is Muslim.


In 2013 most migrants from Indonesia could speak English. The majority were bilingual and spoke their own language at home. Of the hundreds of Indonesian languages, Bahasa Indonesia was the most commonly spoken in New Zealand. 

First to see the sun

In 1992 Victoria University’s original gamelan group was given the Javanese name Padhang Moncar, which signifies that it is the first in the world to see the new day’s sunrise.

Community organisations and events

The New Zealand Indonesia Association was established in Auckland and Wellington in the early 1960s to promote friendship between New Zealand and Indonesian people, and by the 2000s the Indonesia New Zealand Society, with similar aims, had been set up in Auckland. There are also Indonesian community groups in all the large cities, and universities have Indonesian students’ associations.

These organisations run events featuring wayang kulit (shadow puppetry), pantum (folk poetry), warong (food stalls), displays of batik (dyed cloth) and traditional dance and music performances. They also raise funds for Indonesian charities and disaster relief. Since 2010 there has been an annual Indonesian Festival in Auckland, and Indonesian film festivals are held periodically.

Whatever their religion or ethnicity, Indonesians gather to celebrate Indonesian Independence Day (17 August). The day signifies the end of Dutch rule in Indonesia.

Influence on New Zealand culture

There has been an Indonesian diplomatic representative in New Zealand since 1958, and the Wellington embassy and Auckland consulate promote economic ties between Indonesia and New Zealand.

Music also forges links between the two countries. A gamelan (percussion music) orchestra was established in the music department at Victoria University of Wellington in the early 1970s, when the Indonesian Embassy lent the university the pelog (major key) half of a large Central Javanese gamelan. Other gamelan orchestras have been set up at Victoria and Otago universities. Gamelan music has strongly influenced the work of New Zealand composers, notably Jack Body and Gareth Farr.

Bahasa Indonesia was taught at Rangitoto College, Auckland, from 1964, and by the mid-1990s was a subject at six Auckland secondary schools. There were university-level courses from the 1970s until 2000. By 2012, however, no New Zealand secondary students were learning Indonesian, and there were calls to boost teaching of the language in schools.

The Toko Baru Indonesian restaurant opened in Wellington in 1983, the first of a number of Indonesian restaurants in the main cities. Gado gado (salad with peanut sauce), nasi goreng (fried rice) and sate (skewered meat) have all proved popular dishes among New Zealanders.

How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'Indonesians - Culture', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 April 2024)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 8 Feb 2005, reviewed & revised 1 Aug 2015