August 17th is a national holiday celebrating the foundation of Indonesia in 1945 as an independent nation, free from Dutch colonial rule. This day is also referred to locally as Hari Merdeka or Tujuh belas Agustus.
Prior to 1945, Indonesia was a colony of the Netherlands. As Japan began to expand in World War II, Japanese leaders decided to support the independence movement in Indonesia in an attempt to drive the Netherlands out of its sphere of influence. Achmed Sukarno and Muhammad Hatta collaborated with the Japanese military to reclaim Indonesia from the Dutch. On August 17, 1945, Sukarno and Hatta proclaimed Indonesia’s independence from the Dutch and Japanese authorities by announcing the Proclamation of Indonesian Independence, known in Indonesian as Proklamasi Kemerdekaan Indonesia or simply Proklamasi. In 2005, the Netherlands finally recognized August 17, 1945 as Indonesia’s date of independence.
Indonesian Independence Day is celebrated to a lesser extent in Bali compared to the rest of Indonesia, though there is a better chance of larger celebrations in more populated areas.
Red and white flags line the streets and flag raising ceremonies take place in government offices and in schools. Students gather on fields and sing national anthems, pray for late national heroes and recite the proclamation of Independence.
While formal ceremonies take place, in local neighbourhoods, the atmosphere is festive with many activities taking place. Krupuk (shrimp chips) eating contests, races and fun games fill the day. Cooking contests are carried out to see who can make the biggest krupuk or the most delicious nasi tumpeng.
One of the most popular games is the panjat pinang. A greased Areca palm trunk is erected in a public area and various prizes such as bikes and TV’s are hung on top of the tree. Whoever makes it to the top wins the prize.
Due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, it is likely that the Bali government may limit large gatherings this year. Please check ahead of time if you plan on travelling to specific areas.