Living in Indonesia, A Site for Expatriates

Check out What's New on the Expat Web Site
Information for foreigners moving to Indonesia

Home » Doing Business in Indonesia » Cross Cultural Understanding

Business Across Cultures: Selamatan

Practical Information for foreigners, expats and expatriates moving to Indonesia - find out about housing, schooling, transport, shopping and more to prepare you for your stay in Indonesia

Translate this Page

Bookmark and Share
Links to hundreds of articles giving practical information for expats moving to Indonesia
Post your questions or communicate with other expats in Indonesia on the Expat Forum
Looking for a place to stay in Indonesia - check out the Housing Forum
Looking for a weekend or holiday getaway ... visit some of Indonesia's Great Escapes
Advice and resources for conducting business in Indonesia
Info on expatriate community organizations in Indonesia
Shops, Products and Services
Links to other useful Indonesian or expat-related web sites
Expat Humor - spread the joys of Living in Indonesia through e-postcards
Site Map
Return to the Home Page
expatriate information for Indonesia

To better understand western and Indonesian business cultures, it is useful to compare the two cultures graphically. Anthropologists have for years used cultural models to help define cultures. A basic model plots a culture by asking several questions. These questions address issues like the culture's view of the relationship of man to nature, the concept of time, and the structure of social relationships.

In some of these areas, western and Indonesian cultures are quite far apart. For instance, many Indonesians believe that life is determined by external forces; a person cannot surpass the conditions that life has set. Most western cultures believe that man's challenge is to conquer and control nature.

A westerner may believe that a good grain harvest is the result of climatic conditions, fertilizer and pesticides. A Javanese farmer may just as surely believe that the harvest is a result of following the properties and ceremonies to maintain harmony with nature. It is the faulty preconception of how another person is looking at a given situation where one projects one's own cultural interpretation onto another culture that often causes conflicts in multicultural settings.

This difference in opinion as to whether man is the master of nature or is subject to nature carries over into the workplace. In Asia there is a strong belief that karma, fate, or the natural order of the universe is the reason behind particular business problems. For a Western executive trying to determine and understand the rational cause of a situation, this can be a frustrating attitude.

In a recent cross cultural training program, a participant mentioned the he was surprised to find out that the new, modern office building in which his company was located had a water buffalo head buried in its foundation. When that building was dedicated, a ceremony was held to insure that events flow smoothly and nothing bad occurred to the tenants of the building. This kind of ceremony is called a Selamatan.

A Selamatan is a ritual meal in which members of a group participate to sustain, maintain or instill order. There are many kinds of Selamatan. One kind may be held during the building of a new home, after the recovery from a sickness or to mark any important event in a person's life. At this level the meal usually consists of Nasi Tumpeng, a rice cone. For larger endeavors, such as the dedication of the office block, a more elaborate ceremony involving the sacrifice of live animals may be required.

Selamatan are also performed whenever a need is felt by the members of a group. Should an office or company experience a string of bad luck, some members of the staff may suggest that a Selamatan be held to reinstill the harmony of the office.

This is an important request and one that a foreign manager should not treat lightly. If invited to a Selamatan, the foreigner professional should show respect for the ceremony that it is. It is a recognition of the importance of the group and of the importance of respecting the balance of nature. The meal may be preceded by prayers and include some sort of speech or sermon. As a foreigner, one should participate so far as he or she feels comfortable.

Although there has been a simplification of communal celebrations in the various cultures of Indonesia, the belief in and respect for the power of nature remains. However, as modern life pervades Indonesian society, you can also see the proud owner of a 1998 BMW request a Selamatan to ritually purify the car before he drives it away.

This article was generously contributed by George B. Whitfield, III when he was a Technical Advisor with Executive Orientation Services.

Housing and schooling information for expats in Indonesia expatriate website for Indonesia Indonesian language translation of article

Practical Information for foreigners, expats and expatriates moving to Indonesia - find out about housing, schooling, transport, shopping and more to prepare you for your stay in Indonesia

Practical Information |  Expat Forum |  Site Map  |  Search |  Home Page |  Contact


Return to top

Copyright © 1997-2017, Expat Web Site Association Jakarta, Indonesia http://www.expat.or.id All rights reserved. The information on Living in Indonesia, A Site for Expatriates may not be retransmitted or reproduced in any form without permission. This information has been compiled from sources which we, the Expat Web Site Association and volunteers related to this site, believe to be reliable. While reasonable care has been taken to ensure that the facts are accurate and up-to-date, opinions and commentary are fair and reasonable, we accept no responsibility for them. The information contained does not make any recommendation upon which you can rely without further personal consideration and is not an offer or a solicitation to buy any products or services from us. Opinions and statements constitute the judgment of the contributors to this web site at the time the information was written and may change without notice.