As one of the most ethnically diverse societies, the country's consists of 1,300 ethnic groups with at least 95 percent are native Indonesia. The Indonesian motto of 'Unity in Diversity', is signifying the country's myriad cultures and ethnicity, with all its people living together peacefully. Other minority groups, excluded from the native are including Chinese, Arabs and Indian. (Antara Photo/Septianda Perdana)

Unity in Diversity: Indonesia's Six Largest Ethnic Groups


JULY 16, 2016

Jakarta. Indonesia's motto "Unity in Diversity'" signifies the country's myriad of cultures and ethnicities with all its people living together largely in peace.

As one of the most ethnically diverse societies, Indonesia consists of 1,300 ethnic groups with at least 95 percent native to the archipelago. Minority migrant groups, such as Chinese, Arab and Indian, make up the remainder.


Many Indonesians will first identify themselves from their ethnic groups when strangers ask where they are from.

The questions emphasizes how important it is for Indonesians to claim their ethnic group. The answer can provide an indication of how to interact with them.

The Central Statistics Agency (BPS) has compiled a report on Indonesia's ethnic groups, native languages and religions in the 2010 census.

These are the six largest ethnic groups that makes up more than two third of 237 million of the country's total population.

1. Javanese

Javanese people, native to the island of Java, is the largest ethnic group in Indonesia with more than 95.2 million people, make up 40 percent of the total population. Javanese population spread all over the country, but is highly concentrated in Java and Bali Islands.

Javanese people mostly identified as Muslim, with a small figure of Christian, Buddhist and Hindu. They also long been associated with Kejawen, a traditional animistic beliefs which rooted in Javanese history, synchronizing practices into different religion, such as Islam, Hindu and Christianity. There are ethnic sub-groups of Osing, Tengger, Samin, Bawean/Boyan, Naga, Nagaring and other communities.

2. Sundanese

Native to the western part of Java, Sundanese people makes up 16 percent, or 36.7 million people, from the country's total population. The ethnic group is predominantly Muslim and stick to their own language. They traditionally inhabit provinces of Banten, West Java and Jakarta.

3. Batak

The third largest ethnicity is Batak from North Sumatra with 8.5 million people, accounting for 3.8 percent of the total population, which consists of Batak Simalungun, Angkola, Karo, Mandailing, Pakpak Dairi, Tapanuli, Dairi, Toba and many more. These ethnic groups are distinctly related and speak the same language, while also practicing similar customs.

As predominantly Christian, Batak accept this Abrahamic religion as part of their identity since the early 20th century. Although, other ethnic sub-groups of Mandailing and Angkola are predominantly Muslims, they are closely associated with Minangkabau ethnic group from West Sumatra.

4. Sulawesi

The fourth largest are the Sulawesi ethnic groups with 7.6 million, equivalent to 3.2 percent of Indonesia's total population, which comprise of 208 ethnic groups, including Attinggola, Suwawa, Mandar, Amatoa, which excluded the people from Makassar, Bugis, Minahasa and Gorontalo.

5. Madurese

Around 7,179,356 million Madurese made up for 3.03 percent out of Indonesia's total population, identifying themselves as the people who originally lives in Madura Island. They are predominantly Muslim and commonly affiliated with Nadhatul Ulama, the largest Islamic organization in Indonesia. However, Madurese also inhabited many regions in Indonesia as most of Madurese native have been migrated to any other parts of the country for a century.

6. Betawi

The Betawi ethnic group is the term for the people who lived in Batavia, the Dutch name for Jakarta. The native Jakartans made up for 6.8 million or 2.9 percent. Their language ——a Malay-based creole that borrows extensive words from Hokkien, Chinese, Arabic, Portuguese and Dutch languages as well as other local language  is still used as slang language in Jakarta.

They are predominantly Muslims, with a few number of Christian and Roman Catholic believers.