Metro, Boston

In Copley Square on Saturday, a Taste of Indonesia

Even in a setting as familiar as Copley Square, it can be possible for Bostonians to discover something new—maybe even a completely new culture.

This past Saturday, the chance of discovery became a certainty, as Copley Square was filled with vendors, performers, and visitors who made up the fourth annual New England Indonesian Festival. Beginning at 12 p.m. with speeches and traditional performances as the opening ceremonies, the festival continued until 6 p.m., with activities, such as traditional dances, multiple musical performances, and games, scheduled throughout the afternoon in order to present visitors with multiple examples of Indonesian culture.

Hosted and organized by PERMIAS Massachusetts, the Massachusetts chapter of the Indonesian Students Association in the United States, the New England Indonesian Festival began in 2012 as the brainchild of PERMIAS Massachusetts’s 2012 executive board. Completely run and organized by college students attending Boston-area school such as Northeastern, Boston University, Tufts, and the University of Massachusetts, who are all members of the current PERMIAS executive board, the planning process for the festival—although strenuous—showcases the organizational and collaborative skills inherent to many students in the Boston area.

This year, the New England Indonesian Festival’s theme was “Ourchipelago,” in order to introduce visitors to Indonesia’s status as the world’s largest archipelago. For this year’s festival, organizers decided to emphasize the six main islands that make up Indonesia: Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Bali, and Papua. Through a brightly decorated display of tables on the grassy lawn in the center of Copley, festival attendees were encouraged to stop by the table dedicated to each island to learn more about what makes each one unique.

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After visiting the display, visitors could lounge on the grass, perhaps even with a picnic of traditional Indonesian cuisine purchased from some of the festival’s many food vendors located all along the perimeter of Copley Square. These vendors, which included Boston’s own Kaki Lima’s, as well as Indomie, Dapur the Tios, and Warung Mba Ning, sold everything from traditional ,  savory Indonesian cuisine to exotic-looking sweets and brightly colored drinks. Many casual passersby were drawn in by the food, and then led to explore the rest of what the festival had to offer—an outcome that delights organizers such as PERMIAS Massachusetts’s Head of Marketing and Reports, Dian Mak.

“The goal has , I think—aside from [creating a] home away from home [for the Indonesian community in Boston]—been presenting Indonesian culture to people here in the United States,” Mak said. “Indonesia isn’t really that well known, but it’s a beautiful country. We have 17,000 islands, and … we feel like Indonesia hasn’t been very much presented in the eyes of the world, so that’s definitely a goal.”

And it is a goal that has certainly been met over the past few years that the festival has taken place. Not only does Mak delight in receiving social media messages from the festival’s attendees, already eager to return next year, she also notes that the festival’s growth has been the most notable change over the past couple of years, an impressive feat especially in light of the fact that the entire festival was developed and organized entirely by students, each with his or her own rigorous academic life.

The collaborative skills PERMIAS students hone while planning the festival obviously pay off, as the festival serves its intended purpose of immersing visitors, many of whom are generally unfamiliar with Indonesia, in traditional Indonesian culture. Even the festival’s layout—a ring of white booths enclosing the large stage and traditional Indonesian decorations located on Copley’s grass-covered middle—lends itself to an immersive experience, as festival attendees feel that they enter a bright cocoon of Indonesian culture within the center of downtown Boston. And once in the middle of this bubble, visitors, surrounded by the traditional Indonesian murals used to decorate the space, witnessed performances that Mak emphasized as some of the festival’s highlights.

“Definitely the performances [are a highlight],” Mak said. “We have the dancers fly in, a lot from D.C., and some from Philadelphia They perform traditional dances from different parts of Indonesia, and there’s also a performance with traditional Indonesian instruments.”

Mak said that organizers hope to continue building this immersive experience in the future iterations of the festival in order to strengthen the Indonesian community within Boston, and inform the Boston public of the unique facets of Indonesian culture.

Featured Image by Madeleine D’Angelo / Heights Editor

October 12, 2016