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Republik Indonesia

Last modified: 2023-06-23 by zachary harden
Keywords: indonesia | netherlands indies | asia | bicolour | majapahit empire |
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[National flag of Indonesia] 2:3 [ National Flag and Ensign ] image by Željko Heimer, 2 January 1996

Flag adopted 17 August 1945, Coat of Arms adopted 1 February 1950.

See also:

History and meaning of the flag

The Indonesian national flag is called "Sang Saka Merah Putih." As provided for in Article 35 of the 1945 Constitution, the flag is made up of two colors, red on top of white. Its width is two-thirds of its length, or two meters by three meters. It is hoisted in front of the presidential palace, of government buildings and Indonesian missions abroad. The first flag was courageously flown amidst Japanese occupation forces on the day Indonesia's independence was proclaimed. Since then it has been hoisted at independence day commemorations in front of the presidential palace in the capital city of Jakarta. This historical flag, or "bendera pusaka," was flown for the last time on August 17, 1968. Since then it has been preserved and replaced by a replica woven of pure Indonesian silk.
From located by Jarig Bakker, 17 May 1999

A lot of present and former flags in South East Asia have red and white, sometimes together with blue (apart from Indonesia: Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar/Burma).

The flag of Indonesia is based on the flag of the Majapahit Empire on Java at the end of the 13th century. This had nine stripes red and white, and is nowadays used as jack.

In 1922 Indonesian students in Leiden (The Netherlands) adopted a flag red over white for their association, and had the head of a banteng (bull) in the centre. In 1928 it was hoisted by the Partai Nasional Indonesia in Bandung. One year later the first plain red over white flag was hoisted during a student congress in Batavia (nowadays Jakarta).

When the independence of Indonesia was proclaimed at 17 August 1945 in front of Soekarno's house at Pegangsaan Oost 56 in Djakarta, the flag was hoisted:

"It was a simple ceremony. But the lack of pomp and splendour was compensated by our hope. I walked to the microphone stolen from a Japanese radio station and read the Proclamationshort and concise. My wife [Fatmawati] made a flag of two pieces of cloth. A white piece of cloth and a red piece of cloth sewn together by hand. It was the first official flag of the Republic. The staff was a piece of bamboo put in the ground short before. It was a primitive flagstaff, not very high. Nobody received the order to hoist our holy Merah-Poetih. Nothing was prepared. Nobody had thought in advance. Captain Latief, one of the few in uniform, stood near the flagstaff. Everybody waited tensed when he took the flag, fastened it to a thin frayed rope and let it fly... lonely... proud... for the first time in three and a half centuries.
There was no music, no band. After the flag was hoisted we just sung the 'Indonesia Raya'. (...)
It was ten o'clock [in the morning]. The Revolution had started."

From Sukarno by Cindy Adams, The Hague 1967.

Merah-Poetih simply means Red-White. The official name however is Sang Saka, Lofty Bicolor. Red represents the human blood, standing for the corporeal or concrete, white represents the spiritual. Together they are a pair, like the life on earth: day and night; man and wife; creation and individual.
Mark Sensen, 21 May 1998

Traditionally almost all Indonesia since long ago has used red and white as their sacred colours, resembling the colour of sugar (red in colour because the sugar comes from palm-sugar, "gula (sugar) aren (palm- sugar)") and rice (white in colour). Both of these (rice & sugar) are the major components of daily Indonesian cuisine/cooking. When one of the tribes later became so powerful in the islands, that is the Javanese's Majapahit Empire, they did not forget this tradition. They used red-white colours as their National flag. Even today the Indonesians are still using red-white in their National Flag. So, a thousand years of unbroken history. Surprisingly, their distant cousins in Madagascar also use the "sacred colour of red & white" in their National Flag. Again, thousand years of unbroken history.
Ary Prihardhyanto Keim, 3 December 1999

The hoisting of the Indonesian flag after the proclamation of the independence is described in "Berita Jakarta", 20 May 2010, which introduces, Iliyas Karim, the man who hoisted the flag, now aged 82, as follows:
Karim was a brave hero. He was an Indonesia flag raiser on Indonesia Independence Day August 17, 1945 at President Soekarno’s house on Jl Pegangsaan Timur 56 Cikini, Central Jakarta. Karim has still remembered the history and saved the document about his involvement. Karim raised Indonesian flag together with the late Sudanco Singgih. The picture showed that Karim and Singgih stood near Soekarno, Hatta, Fatmawati and Rahmi Hatta. Karim was 17 years old. He wears shirt and shorts.
Ivan Sache, 20 May 2010

Alternative (likely legendary) meaning of the flag

I had another story about the origin of the Indonesian flag. According to my father, the reason for the red-on-white was simplicity in both message and production. To symbolize the aim of throwing out the Dutch, the Indonesian independence movement tore apart Dutch flags. Now, why they tore the red and white from the blue portion may be symbolic: red could be understood as the blood of common humanity (Sukarno was sympathetic to the PKI communists), or as the blood shed in the war of independence; white could be understood as purity or as the color of sugar which many Indonesians toiled for. However, blue in Dutch flag was understood as standing for the "blue blooded" aristocracy, whom the nationalists were seeking to kick out. So Sukarno and the Nationalists decided to tear the Dutch flag as a protest, and to fly it in resistance. I suspect it had little to do with the Majaphit Empire, as Sukarno's Nationalists were mainly trying to organize against the Dutch within the entire Indonesian archipelago.
Daniel, 14 June 2003

Indeed I have read that shortly after independence was declared Indonesian flags were made by removing the blue stripe from Dutch flags. (However, I think it's likely most Dutch flags didn't survive the Japanese occupation). But I can't believe tearing apart Dutch flags is the main reason.
Mark Sensen, 14 June 2003

The Original Indonesian Flag

From The Jakarta Post, 23 July 2004:

Governor Sutiyoso will resume the delayed Rp 3.5 billion (US$388,889) relocation of the Bendera Pusaka, a historic heirloom of the Indonesian people, from the State Palace to the National Monument (Monas). "The State Secretary has given the green light to continue the relocation of the historic flag to Monas... But, we have not yet determined whether it will be done at the end of this year or next year," he told reporters at City Hall on Thursday. Sutiyoso said the flag must be tightly guarded by Presidential Guards to ensure its safety as well as to show respect for Indonesia's heroes, particularly former First Lady Fatmawati, the second wife of founding president Sukarno. Fatmawati's hand-sewn flag was hoisted to mark the declaration of Indonesia's Independence. "The changing of the guards can also be an additional tourist attraction at Monas," he said, referring to a similar practice in Taiwan and Russia and the Coldstream guards of London.

The relocation project was delayed last year, following public outcry over the planned Rp 500 million relocation ceremony. Most of the remaining Rp 3 billion has been spent to procure around 15 kilograms of gold for the conservation room, security cameras and alarms. The whole budget had been proposed in the 2003 revised city budget. The flag will be installed in a 24-carat gold-plated case in the Independence Room inside Monas. The flag will be placed beside the historic Garuda statue, Nusantara (archipelago) map and the original text of the proclamation of Indonesia's independence. All will be kept gold-plated display cases. In the room, visitors can listen to Indonesia's national anthem Indonesia Raya and the reading of the proclamation text by Sukarno.

located by M. K., 22 July 2004

Colour of the flag and vertical hanging

The protocol manual for the London 2012 Olympics (Flags and Anthems Manual London 2012) provides recommendations for national flag designs. Each NOC was sent an image of the flag, including the PMS shades, for their approval by LOCOG. Once this was obtained, LOCOG produced a 60 x 90 cm version of the flag for further approval. So, while these specs may not be the official, government, version of each flag, they are certainly what the NOC believed the flag to be. For Indonesia: PMS 032 red. The vertical flag is simply the horizontal version turned 90 degrees clockwise.
Ian Sumner, 10 October 2012

Regarding to Indonesian flag precise color requirements, I think the latest official statement is UU No. 24 Th. 2009. In the explanation section of article 4, it is stated that the red part shall use RGB value of 255, 0, 0 and white part shall use RGB value of 255, 255, 255. As it is only in "explanation" section, it isn't necessarily binding by law though.
Ardian Wardhana, 7 September 2014