local alcohols indonesia

Clash of cultures over local alcohol craze in Indonesia

Photo: Courrier International

The weekly magazine Courrier International published an analysis of the clash between increased local alcohol consumption and Muslim fundamentalists.

Via Courrier International

The article Engouement pour les alcools locaux en Indonésie (or Local Alcohol Mania in Indonesia) exposes the situation of clash between two cultures: those who promote the production and consumption of alcohol and the Islamic abolitionists.

On the one hand, we have producers on various islands of the Indonesian archipelago who create local alcoholic drinks based on fruits, tubers, rice and palm. As an example we have Sophia, a known local spirit brand produced from several palms. These craft liquors are as much synonymous with ancient tradition as they are with a new and expanding trend.

There are several alcohols: moke, sopi, tuak, ciu, arak, baram, brem, raidawa. And even the salak wine, (a tropical fruit also known as snake fruit) which is sold under the name Moonshine in social networks. Alcoholic beverages such as Sophia are supported by the provincial government of the Island of Flores. They advocate that these drinks contribute to the economic development of rural areas. It is worth noting that imported alcohol is taxed at 200%.

On the other hand, the religious taboo is imposed through the Islamic abolitionism. In fact representatives of the religion have managed to ban the sale of alcohol in several regions of the country. In addition, three fundamentalist Muslim parties are currently fighting in Parliament with one aim; to pass a law banning alcohol in the whole archipelago. Beyond the religious taboo, they accuse the European colonizers of having introduced the use of alcohol to brutalize the Indonesian people. This argument is something that the anthropologist of the University of Indonesia, Raymond Michael Menot, refutes.

In the Indonesian Hindu period [from the 5th to the 13th century], these drinks were part of all the royal ceremonies,” the researcher told Tempo magazine. According to Menot, alcohol consumption has long been witnessed by many indigenous communities such as the Dayaks in Kalimantan, or the Torajas* in South Sulawesi, in their religious rituals, weddings, and at harvest time. These local spirits were even used as medicines.

*In eastern Indonesia, the Toraja Sa’dan reside mainly in the department (kabupaten) that bears their name (Tana Toraja, also contracted in Tator, which means “Land of the Toraja”) and which is located in the province of South Sulawesi. The majority of the Toraja are now Christians, but despite the conversions and irremediable socio-cultural changes – especially those brought about by the interference of the Indonesian state, globalization and international tourism in local affairs – that they have experienced in recent decades, cultural and religious facts continue to play an essential role, as shown, for example, by the “traditional” funeral ceremonies.


Alcohol : a drink well anchored in their customs

In Indonesia and parts of Malaysia, as explained above, the preparation of certain alcoholic beverages is synonymous with tradition. One of the drinks that forms part of welcome and prayer rituals is Tuak.


The Tuak

Tuak, also known as rice wine, is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice, yeast and sugar. It is drunk in parts of Indonesia such as Sumatra, Sulawesi, Borneo, and in parts of Malaysia such as the island of Penang and East Malaysia. The drink is very popular among the Ibans and other Dayaks of Sarawak during Gawai festivals, weddings, hosting of guests and other special occasions. The same word is used for other drinks in Indonesia. For example the palm wine of the Batak people of North Sumatra.

In a bottle of Smirnoff, the local drink TUAK is offered | Photo: BorneoTalk


The Harvest Festival in Malaysia – Gawai Dayak

Gawai Dayak, known as the harvest festival in Malaysia is a thanksgiving for the rice harvest and a prayer for the abundance of the coming crops. This festival is particularly celebrated by the Ibans, Dawaks, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu, indigenous people of the country.

A whole ritual of offerings of traditional sweets and Tuak to the gods of rice and prosperity takes place. The Malaysians also take advantage of these specialties and rice wine to taste them.

Usually these festivities take place between May 31 and June 1 or 2.


Don’t drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly.


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