Every country commemorates at least one significant event in their history. Indonesia is no different, celebrating their independence from the Dutch and Japanese authorities on 17 August each year, locally named Merdeka day.
Bali, as one of the islands making up the larger group of Indonesian isles, is known for its celebrations on this day with locals and tourists able to take part in various traditions around the island.
Visitors to Bali can expect a hive of activity around this time with school children from all different villages on the island joining a marching procession in the streets. The activity can begin weeks before Independence Day as the children practice their march, chanting and singing traditional songs. When the day finally comes around, Balinese families line the streets to watch and cheer the children on.
Flag ceremonies take place all over the island at schools and offices too, where the red and white flag is hoisted and locals read the proclamation in homage to the heroes who fought for their independence. The struggle they endured is evident in their mantra for the day Merdeka atau Mati (freedom or death).
In contrast to the martial atmosphere of the flag ceremonies, there are also some fun traditions dating back hundreds of years that are still done today. Traditional Kerupuk (shrimp cracker) eating contests are put together all over the island on Merdeka day, and this activity symbolises the poverty felt during the colonisation.
Panjat Pinang is another interesting tradition where locals position tall nut trees in the centre of the village and hang valuable items from the top as a prize for those who can climb the tall, slippery tree. This activity is a hit amongst young and old, ensuring that people work together in order to reach the top.
As a tourist you are welcomed to join the celebrations, activities and commemorations of Merdeka day. If you’d prefer to watch from afar, remember that traffic can be busy on that day and you may want to consider riding a bike or travelling around the island on foot.
However you enjoy Merdeka day, be sure to soak in the Indonesian heritage and share your experiences of these wonderful traditions with the world.
Author: Dominique Kotze