Indonesia Independence Day

An Introduction to Hari Merdeka and Panjat Pinang in Indonesia

Panjat Pinang on Indonesia Independence Day
••• Teamwork is the only way to win at Panjat Pinang on Indonesia Independence Day. Ed Wray / Stringer / Getty Images

Indonesia Independence Day, known locally as Hari Merdeka, is observed annually on August 17 to celebrate their declaration of independence from Dutch colonization in 1945.

Using both diplomacy and revolutionary fighters, Indonesia was finally granted independence in December 1949. Amazingly, it wasn't until 2005 that the Dutch finally accepted the date for Indonesia Independence Day as August 17, 1945!

Hari Merdeka in Indonesia

Hari Merdeka means "Independence Day" in Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malaysia, so the term is used for both countries' independence days.

Not to be confused with Malaysia's Hari Merdeka on August 31, Indonesia's Independence Day is a completely separate, unrelated holiday on August 17.

What to Expect on Indonesia's Independence Day

Indonesian Independence Day is observed from Jakarta to the smallest towns and villages across the more than 13,000 islands in the archipelago. Vibrant parades, formal military processions, and lots of patriotic flag ceremonies take place across the country. Schools begin training weeks in advance with marching practice to fine tune the military-like processions that later clog all main streets. Special sales and celebrations take place in shopping malls. The markets get even more chaotic than usual.

The President of Indonesia delivers his State of the Nation Address on August 16.

Each village and neighborhood sets up small stages and holds their own outdoor music, games, and eating contests. A festive atmosphere permeates the air.

Transportation can slow to a halt during Indonesian Independence Day as bus companies lose drivers on vacation and roads are blocked. Flights to some destinations in Indonesia book up as people travel home for the holiday.

Plan ahead: find a nice place to stop moving for a day or two and enjoy the festivities!

The Indonesian Proclamation of Independence

The Indonesian Proclamation of Independence was read in Jakarta at the private home of Sukarno Sosrodihardjo — the future president — on the morning of August 17, 1945, in front of a crowd of around 500 people.

Unlike the American Declaration of Independence which consisted of over 1,000 words and contained 56 signatures, the 45-word (in English) Indonesian proclamation was literally drafted the night before and contained only two signatures chosen to represent the future nation: Sukarno's — the new president — and Mohammad Hatta's — the new vice president.

The Proclamation of Independence was broadcast secretly across the archipelago and an English version was sent overseas.

The actual text of the proclamation is short and to the point:

WE THE PEOPLE OF INDONESIA HEREBY DECLARE THE INDEPENDENCE OF INDONESIA. MATTERS WHICH CONCERN THE TRANSFER OF POWER AND OTHER THINGS WILL BE EXECUTED BY CAREFUL MEANS AND IN THE SHORTEST POSSIBLE TIME.

DJAKARTA, 17 AUGUST 1945 IN THE NAME OF THE PEOPLE OF INDONESIA.

  • Learn more about Indonesian history.

Panjat Pinang Games

Perhaps one of the most messy and entertaining parts of Indonesian Independence Day is the observing a tradition began during colonial times known as panjat pinang.

The roudy game consists of heavily greased poles, usually nut trees that have been stripped, erected in the main squares of towns and villages; various prizes are placed on top just out of reach. Contestants — usually organized into teams — push, slip, and slide up the pole in a chaotic effort to grab a prize. What starts as a vicious, comical competition usually turns into a heroic display of teamwork as people realize just how difficult the seemingly simple climb really is.

Prizes in small villages can be simple household items such as brooms, baskets, and buckets, while some televised events have vouchers for new TVs and cars at the top!

Although generally good fun for all, panjat pinang is considered controversial by some because it began as a way for Dutch colonists to enjoy themselves at the expense of impoverished locals who desperately wanted the goods placed at the tops of poles.

Broken bones are still common during the competitions.

Despite the colonial origins, advocates argue that panjat pinang teaches the rewards of teamwork and selflessness to young men who compete in the events. Sometimes the poles are erected in mud or water to provide a safer — and messier — landing for men who fall from near the top.

Travel in Indonesia

Travel in Indonesia, particularly around Independence Day, can be incredibly rewarding. Although a majority of Indonesia's international visitors flock directly to Bali, there are plenty of other great places to visit in the archipelago. From Sumatra in the west to Papua in the east (where numerous uncontacted tribes are still thought to hide in the rainforest), Indonesia brings out the inner adventurer in all intrepid travelers.

Indonesia is the largest island nation in the world, the earth's fourth most populous country, and also the most populous Islamic nation. You could spend years exploring the place and never run out of new discoveries!