Indonesian Gifts from Java and Bali

Indonesian gifts are flavored
with symbols from a multicultural heritage.

Indonesian gifts from Java and Bali reflect diverse ethnic and cultural influences. Some are uniquely Indonesian, others add a distinctive Indonesian style to traditions and techniques shared with other countries. All of these art and gift items are hand crafted by Indonesian artisans, and all are Fair Trade gifts. (skip to gifts)

map of indonesia

About Indonesia

Indonesia consists of 18,000 islands (6000 inhabited), straddling the equator northwest of Australia, and stretching 3000 miles west to east. Java is the long, narrow southern island with the nation's capital, Jakarta, at its western end. Just east of Java is Bali, the first of a group of smaller islands.

With 240 million people, Indonesia is the 4th most populous country in the world, and the most populous Muslim-majority country. Indonesia is the world's 3rd largest democracy, after the USA and India. It also has the greatest number of active volcanoes.

Situated along a major trade route, Indonesia has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Now, more than 300 ethnic groups all contribute to modern Indonesian culture. Hindu beliefs arrived from India around 100 BC. Buddhism was also brought from India, and Islam arrived later with Arabic, central Asian and Indian traders.

The Java population largely follows "traditional Islam," which holds firmly to the orthodox ways. Over time, however, Indonesian customs have merged with Islamic law, resulting in a "modern Islam" more generally practiced on a majority of the islands.

The Bali population is mostly Hindu, and most of Indonesia's Hindu minority live on Bali. The most popular tourist area in Indonesia, Bali is also a center for the arts and is well known for music and dance, painting, wood carving, batik and wood batik.

Indonesian Gifts - Unique and Interesting

An Indonesian musical instrument is a likely gift for a music teacher - or a budding musician. The Kecapi is certainly interesting - it's much like a zither, with steel strings. Other musical instruments include jambe drums, flutes and xylophones.

Dance and drama usually tell a story, and a favorite is the Ramayana, an ancient Hindu epic. Rama is the hero. Sita, his wife, is kidnapped by a villain, and Rama enlists the help of a monkey general and others to rescue her.

  • Rama and Sita appear over and over again in Indonesian gifts as symbols of married love, faithfulness and courage. A Rama and Sita sculpture or relief panel would make a very nice wedding or anniversary gift.

  • Here is a Rama mask with a beautifully detailed design hand carved in wood. A fitting gift for an actor - and because masks recall legends and characters from many different cultures, they make fascinating collectibles (= gift ideas for next year too!).

statue of BuddhaHand carved art pieces, statuettes and other Indonesian gifts are inspired by historic figures, gods, and legendary characters:

  • A wood relief panel showing a seated Buddha in graceful detail. A good housewarming gift, perhaps, to encourage an atmosphere of serenity in the home.

  • Ganesha is the well-loved Hindu god of wisdom, with an elephant's head and a human body. This sandstone statuette of Ganesha is beautifully made, another handsome gift for the home.

  • In Hindu tradition, dragons are protectors of the gods. Note the fine detail in this artist's wood sculpture and panels - dragons are great gifts for boys of all ages... girls will like them too!

Indonesian gifts go beyond the traditional, however. For modern tastes, you'll find some very smart contemporary pieces in several gift categories. Here are two hand carved examples:

  • A graceful wood statuette entitled "Everlasting Kiss" - a charming gift for a couple, or perhaps a romantic Valentine gift for your sweetheart. This artisan's work includes nice gifts for Mothers Day too.

  • Some modern Indonesian gifts seem especially creative, like this whimsical contemporary sculpture. Called "Man in Thought," it's carved from hibiscus wood. In a similar vein are these contemporary stone sculptures.

Elephant at easel
Balinese paintings encompass many categories and styles - Abstract (including Elephant paintings), Buddhist, Nature Scenes, Portraits, and Surrealist, to name a few. This directory of Balinese paintings will help you find a painting that your recipient will enjoy.

Other wall art from Java and Bali includes "lontar" art (designs etched on palm leaf panels), an ancient Balinese technique that predates paper. Hand woven cotton and batik hangings may look their best with hand crafted tapestry rods (see menu at upper left). Rounding out Novica's large selection of wall art are wood relief panels, mirrors, and masks.

Indonesian Gifts - More Favorites

Hundreds of other Indonesian gifts are offered in the NOVICA online store, with enough variety to please most recipients. Here are some that Diane and I find especially interesting, with suggestions about what sort of recipient might like them:

  • Wood batik often features traditional Indonesian motifs. This artisan's masks, ornaments, trays and statuettes have intricate designs that bring him enthusiastic reviews. Good gifts for collectors!

  • Handbags - If you're looking for a gift for a woman, here are over 100 handbags to choose from. TIP: Check out a bag she frequently carries to learn her preferences - size, shape, closure, handles vs. shoulder strap, inside/outside pockets, and so on.

  • Ceramic tea set, "Duck Family" includes two cups and saucers. Great gift for a tea lover, or wildlife enthusiast. The Coffee and Tea Service collection includes traditional shapes and styles as well as some that are unique or fanciful.

  • More sculpture - Of all things to carve, I wouldn't have thought of coconut shell sculpture! Featuring flora and fauna motifs, these are totally unusual gifts for nature lovers.

  • Indonesian baskets often have unusual shapes, like this wide and shallow natural fiber basket with lid. Here are more baskets, and you'll find beautiful beaded baskets in the drop-down menu at the top of that page.
Bali water temple

If you enjoy gifts from afar, art and handicrafts, or just shopping, you'll love the NOVICA online store, which offers Indonesian gifts in many other categories - apparel and accessories, jewelry gifts by the hundreds, tableware, games, home decor - even Christmas ornaments, and hammocks.

NOVICA operates in association with National Geographic and employs Fair Trade practices that protect artist and environment. You get quality handcrafted gifts at reasonable prices... not to mention the fine customer service always found at National Geographic shops.

Indonesian gifts include many fine choices -
tastefully designed, skillfully crafted, and
just right for almost any recipient!

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Logo photo by Jane M. Sawyer, courtesy of
Map courtesy University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.
Elephant photo by Keith Richardson, courtesy of
Temple photo by Astin LeClercq, courtesy of stock.xchng.
Statuette photo courtesy of Microsoft.