IndoFest brings traditional Indonesian culture to Boston


Cheyenne Tang

The 2019 New England Indonesian Festival featured traditional Indonesian dances among other theatrical performances.

Ananya Sankar, news correspondent

The 2019 New England Indonesian Festival, held Sept. 28 in Copley Square, was a spectacular celebration of authentic culture. For six hours, the square was filled with delicious smells, vibrant indigenous performances and the chatter of excited visitors.

This was the seventh annual festival that the Indonesian Community of New England, Inc., or ICONE, and the student-run non-profit Persatuan Mahasiswa Indonesia Seluruh Amerika Serikat, or PERMIAS Massachusetts, have organized together. 

“We just want to give a sense of home for Indonesian people who are living here right now in the States,” said Grace Purba, president of the Massachusetts chapter of PERMIAS.

Their efforts drew nearly 10,000 visitors last year from across the East Coast.

“Throughout the years, we’ve been supported by many people in our community, not only from Massachusetts but from the neighboring states, in showcasing the richness of Indonesian arts and culture,” said Olla Chas, the president and co-founder of ICONE.

Sprawling tables of food showcased the culinary expertise of the Indonesian community. This year’s festival theme, “Pasar Tradisional,” was modeled after an Indonesian marketplace. Indonesian vendors served traditional delicacies like rendang, satay, bakso and siomay. The line for chicken satay with peanut sauce wrapped around the block, while the line for Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee grew progressively throughout the afternoon. Festival attendees flocked toward es doger, a refreshing pink coconut milk beverage topped with red tapioca pearls, pieces of avocado and fermented rice. Although many meat curries were available, vegetarian visitors could choose from an assortment of jackfruit meat and tempeh (soy) dishes. Klepon, sweet rice cake balls coated in coconut flakes and dyed bright green or pink, were a popular dessert.

“These foods are very authentic in so many ways with Indonesian culinary taste and culture,” Chas said.

Several non-profit organizations, sponsors and cultural awareness booths were also scattered throughout the square. 

“We’ve been planning since the end of March and searching for sponsors and food vendors around the States,” Purba said. “Most of the performers are volunteers, and they’ve traveled from places like New York City to perform here.” 

Danar Hadi’s batik exhibition allowed visitors to hand-dye  Indonesian cloths, while another booth taught phrases in the traditional Indonesian language.

PERMIAS Massachusetts promoted the Borneo Orangutan Survival foundation and received support from popular snack companies such as Teh Botol Sosro iced tea and Indomie instant noodles. The festival even featured an Indomie-eating competition and Tarik Tambang, or tug-of-war.

“I think it was great to see people celebrating and sharing their culture. The food was amazing and the singers and dancers were spectacular,” said Ava Rognlien, a Northeastern first-year in the Explore Program.

 Several theatrical performers took the stage throughout the afternoon as visitors set up picnic blankets to watch from below. Following the Indonesian national anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner and a speech from Mayor Martin J. Walsh, the event kicked off with a kebaya fashion show. A kebaya is a traditional two-piece Indonesian dress featuring intricate embroidery and patterns.

Nusantara Kreasindo and the Boston Cendrawasih performed traditional dances, while the Boston Angklung Ensemble performed delicate music through their bamboo instruments. 

More modern musical performances followed, including Java Jukebox, a Boston-based reggae band, and 24 Denby’s, another local band. The Berklee Indonesian Ensemble performed after their member Anastasya Poetri’s solo set. Popular YouTuber and musician Bernard Dinata closed the festival.

The culmination of traditional food, music and dance created an exciting and educational atmosphere on the festival grounds. Purba and the other organizers said they hope to keep expanding the festival and continuing its legacy.

“We have to do something for Indonesia, for the community, and to spread joy and fun in the middle of Boston!” Purba said.