News / Asia

Indonesia Strives to Spin Its Culture Into Economic Gold

Women prepare several different types of rendang, a traditional spicy curry, for a rendang tasting on August 4. (VOA - S. Schonhardt)
Women prepare several different types of rendang, a traditional spicy curry, for a rendang tasting on August 4. (VOA - S. Schonhardt)
Sara Schonhardt
JAKARTA — Indonesia’s economy has become a bright light amid global economic gloom, with strong growth drawing new attention from international investors. Officials say the country's economic potential, however, is not the only thing worth promoting. An effort is underway to export the country's cultural traditions to new audiences abroad.
 
Two women wielding giant spatulas continuously stir a brimming wok of shredded beef simmering in curry sauce. They have been at it for nearly eight hours - the typical amount of time required to prepare this famed dish from West Sumatra known as rendang.
 
On this day they will serve nearly a hundred guests who have come to learn about rendang; how it’s made, its culinary roots and its historical importance.
 
Indonesia’s economy recently made global news for growth that beat most economists’ expectations. Strong domestic spending in the world’s fourth most populous country has sparked investor interest.

Bountiful cultural treasures

But with all the attention pointed toward the economy, artists, culinary experts and some officials now say not enough attention is being paid to promoting the country’s cultural riches.
 
Mari Pangestu, the head of the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, said that needs to change.
 
“We need to develop creative industries because it has a lot of economic potential, but it’s also important because it has a lot of potential for raising the image of a country,” said Pangestu.
 
Her ministry has 15 subsectors that focus on building support for creative industries, including films, fashion and culinary traditions. She said food, in particular, can have a powerful impact on showcasing a culture, and can help to generate increased tourism.

To better tout Indonesian cuisine, the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy plans to identify a few iconic Indonesian dishes that are already known internationally and then focus on promoting their history and roots for foreign consumers.

Diners pass around plates of spicy curry during a rendang tasting, an event held to educate people overseas about the popular dish and Indonesian culture, in Jakarta, Indonesia, August 4, 2012. (VOA - S. Schonhardt)Diners pass around plates of spicy curry during a rendang tasting, an event held to educate people overseas about the popular dish and Indonesian culture, in Jakarta, Indonesia, August 4, 2012. (VOA - S. Schonhardt)
x
Diners pass around plates of spicy curry during a rendang tasting, an event held to educate people overseas about the popular dish and Indonesian culture, in Jakarta, Indonesia, August 4, 2012. (VOA - S. Schonhardt)
Diners pass around plates of spicy curry during a rendang tasting, an event held to educate people overseas about the popular dish and Indonesian culture, in Jakarta, Indonesia, August 4, 2012. (VOA - S. Schonhardt)
Iconic dish

Rendang curry, a spicy meat dish cooked for hours in coconut milk with ginger, lemongrass, chilies and other spices, is at the heart of those discussions.
 
William Wongso, a culinary expert who travels around the world extolling the taste sensations of rendang, said the dish is the gateway to popularizing Indonesian cuisine abroad.
 
“It works in Japan, it works in China, it works in Europe, especially Europe. Because now the world focus is the flavor of Asia… this is in fact likely to draw the rest, just to get attention,” said Wongso.
 
In addition to food, fashion labels are also working to promote Indonesian heritage by mixing traditional patterns and images with contemporary trends. One of the most notable is “Damn, I love Indonesia,” a line that started in 2008 by screen printing tee-shirts with cultural symbols or pop-art images of political icons like Indonesia’s first president Sukarno.
 
Spotlighting traditions

Pangestu said those initiatives help deepen people’s pride in Indonesia and can raise the country’s international profile. So can efforts aimed at reclaiming pieces of the country’s heritage that are in danger of fading into obscurity.
 
In recent years, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization has recognized a handful of cultural traditions in need of safeguarding, including the Saman Dance from Aceh, a bamboo instrument called angklung, and batik, a hand-dyed fabric.
 
Now the government needs to work harder to craft a message that appeals to a global audience, said Pangestu.
 
“We have to identify which stories we want to tell and we have to tell it repeatedly, and in a way which can resonate with a lot of people," said Pangestu.
 
Indonesians often talk about their country’s wealth of natural resources - abundant sea life, majestic mountains and stunning landscapes that have inspired some of Southeast Asia’s richest cultural traditions.
 
Investing in a nation's unique brand

Investments have gone mostly toward extractive industries, though - like mining - which bring in big money, but drain the country’s resources and harm its environment.
 
Many efforts to popularize Indonesian culture have been constrained by a lack of political support. And many say the country will need to work much harder before people start associating Indonesia with images of spicy curry, white-sand beaches and brightly colored batik.

Ariana Alisjahbana, who attended the rendang seminar, said Brazil could serve as a model. The South American country immediately evokes images of caipirinha cocktails, samba and fashion vixen Gisele Bundchen, she explained.
 
“But if you say Indonesia… you don’t have the same connection because I guess there’s not a lot of connections, for cultural things, and I believe it starts from the economy," said Alisjahbana. "But then it will go more, so in the future you will have those references, we just need to work harder in getting those there.”
 
Alisjahbana, who currently lives in Washington, recently attended a three-day conference in Los Angeles for thousands of Indonesians living overseas. Hosted by the Indonesian Embassy, topics ranged from business development to politics, as well as advice on how to start up Indonesia restaurants abroad.
 
Now, said Pangestu, Indonesia needs to start telling its story.

You May Like

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: riano baggy from: ina
August 15, 2012 3:54 AM
yes i agree my country rich with many delicious foods,form east to west north to south, i think to make attractive display and hygienic
and joint with international supermarket to sell it, and participated international bazaar in foreign country. to make our foods well known.


by: Tia from: USA
August 14, 2012 7:06 PM
I wish there was a rendang food truck near me so that I could have some, sigh.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid