New additions and acquisitions expand perspectives on the country’s musical traditions

The revised Indonesia exhibit highlights a variety of instruments from the country’s many regions and peoples.

MIM’s Indonesia exhibits have long treated guests to stories of vibrant Javanese musical customs such as gong making and Javanese gamelan music. Now, an update to the main Indonesia display highlights instruments made and played by a broader cross section of the nation’s peoples.

“Indonesia is such a culturally diverse country,” says Eddie Chia-Hao Hsu, curator for Asia and Oceania. “Some of the new acquisitions, and some from storage that have never been on display before, really give us an opportunity to showcase the richness of the traditions of Indonesia.”

One of the notable new acquisitions is a tengkuang slit drum from the Dayak people in Indonesian Borneo. MIM’s fine example is adorned with carvings of the head of a hornbill bird and whirlpool patterns, each significant symbols of Dayak culture. The exhibit’s 17th-century bronze moko drum is a significant heirloom of the Alor people, who use the drums as dowries and as symbols of clan identity. A kentongan slit drum from East Java, carved to resemble a dugong, and a lamba drum (below) played on the island of Sumba further highlight the variety of Indonesia’s percussion instruments.

Indonesia has developed a rich heritage of instruments and musical genres in part through a long history of creativity and exposure to various religions. Over the course of centuries, Muslim traders and Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms influenced the cultural practices of Indonesia’s Indigenous peoples. Instruments on display used by Indonesia’s Islamic communities include a gambus plucked lute and hadrah hand drum, which are used to accompany singing and dancing at religious and secular gatherings.

“The gambus was brought to Indonesia by Islamic migration and more widely adopted around the 15th century,” Hsu says. “If you explore the Roots and Routes exhibit between the Middle East and Asia galleries, you’ll see an Indonesian gambus and a similarly shaped Yemeni qanbus side by side. It’s fascinating to discover their shared origin and the cultural connection between distant regions.”

MIM’s bronze ghantī (above), a ritual handbell made in the 14th century and covered in a thick crust of blue-green patina, represents Hindu-Buddhist influence from the Majapahit kingdom (1293–1527).

The new exhibit features instruments that highlight additional traditions beyond Javanese gamelan. A Balinese pemade metallophone (below), made around the late 1960s, depicts a scene from the Hindu epic Ramayana on the carved jackfruit wood panels that cover the instrument’s bamboo resonators. The instrument is part of the Balinese gamelan ensemble.

“Balinese gamelan is different from Javanese traditions,” Hsu says. “Javanese gamelan is more cyclic and repetitive, while Balinese gamelan changes tempo and dynamics very suddenly and dramatically.”

These updates demonstrate Indonesia’s astonishing artistic breadth, taking guests on a journey across time periods, religious influences, and ethnic social values.

Don’t miss this upcoming Signature Event!

Experience Southeast AsiaJune 8 & 9
Experience the diverse music of Southeast Asia through talks, traditional dances, and live performances.