Gotong Royong (Communal Culture in Indonesia Modern Society)

Have you ever been to Indonesia? If you have, you might have found people who work together in doing certain works especially if you travel to rural areas in Indonesia. The act is known as the culture of ‘Gotong Royong’ or known as communal work in English. ‘Gotong Royong’ is a form of action usually done by several groups of people to achieve shared objective. In the context of Indonesia, the culture of ‘Gotong Royong’ is usually comes as a communal value and has become a culture of people. For example, farmers usually work together for the irrigation of their rice field. Although it is quite difficult to see this communal work in urban area nowadays, but the practice are still seen in many rural areas in Indonesia.

‘Gotong Royong’ is a national identity of Indonesian culture since the practice are done almost in areas in Indonesia. They also have their own names for Gotong Royong’ Since the act is seen as shared value and norm, the act is jointed in their blood. In Bali for example, the communal work is known as ‘Subak’. In the historical era, the irrigation system in Bali was not managed and controlled by the King but by the people in Bali. The presence of Subak had benefited farmers to receive water supply for their rice field and the amount is decided through the people discussion.

As the capital city of Indonesia, Jakarta often receives most challenge for the practice of communal work than other areas in Indonesia. The status of Jakarta as a center of business and government may shape the individual style of living that can decrease the spirit of communal work. However, although the form of ‘Gotong Royong’ may not come in the same form of other regions in Indonesia, the value that has been rooted in people’s heart bring new form of ‘Gotong Royong’ such as creating safe cities and environment in Jakarta. The work can be done among neighbors in keeping the safety of their neighborhood by having regular patrol system and weekly communal work to clean environment. By having such activities, the spirit of communal work is expected to exist in urban areas in Indonesia.

photo credit: Subak Communal Work

photo credit: Subak Communal Work

Gotong Royong in Global Society

In the bigger context, ‘Gotong Royong’ is about keeping the balance and relationship between nations. In the context among neighboring countries such as Association for South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) for example, Indonesia and other ASEAN countries have been implementing the spirit of ‘Gotong Royong’ in creating peace, stability, and cooperation to achieve shared goals of ASEAN countries. The form of communal work in ASEAN may come in various form of field such as ASEAN cooperation in education to improve the quality of education in ASEAN member stated for example. The work and cooperation in ASEAN has been practiced for years and the cooperation has also been extended to larger context with wider scope. The local spirit that is rooted in a country such as ‘Gotong Royong’ in Indonesia could be a nice starting point to develop further cooperation in the wider context such as ASEAN.


By Cresti Eka Fitriana, ASEAN Correspondent from Indonesia