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6 Local Writing Systems in Indonesia

Indonesia is a vast country in Southeast Asia that anyone can recognize easily on the map because it borders the sea, thus its country border is also the sea border. Hundreds of ethnic groups and languages exist in Indonesia. Despite having numerous writing systems, the government recognizes the Latin alphabet as the official writing system, which was introduced during the colonization by the Europeans. 

A large part of Indonesia became a Dutch colony from the 19th century until independence. As a result of the European colonization, two major things happened: 
  • The promotion of one local language as a lingua franca. Malay was widely used among people from different languages for trading at that time, so it was chosen and developed to be the Indonesian language
  • The development of a Latin alphabet writing system to record and teach the language because this is the writing system used by the Europeans

After the official recognition of the Latin alphabet writing system, it quickly replaced the existing local writing systems for written communication. However, some local writing systems are still used mainly for religious purposes or traditional decorations. It is also used by the local government on banners as an effort to show its local identity.

The following are 6 of the existing local writing systems in Indonesia.


Jawi is the Arabic script used for writing the Malay language. Muslims in Thailand and Indonesia don’t use it as often as those in Malaysia and Brunei. Businesses in the Malaysian states of Kelantan, Terengganu, and Pahang have to use Jawi on signboards. Jawi has a high status in Brunei, where the size of the Jawi script is required to be double the size of its Latin alphabet.

A street name in Baubau city of Southeast Sulawesi province

A name board in Banda Aceh city of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam province


Javanese ethnic make up the biggest portion of the Indonesian population. This means the Javanese language is a local language that has the most speakers in Indonesia. It was written in the Javanese script until the Japanese prohibited it during the Japanese colonization in Indonesia. The Javanese script was gradually replaced by the Latin alphabet introduced by the Dutch during the Dutch colonization.

A street name in Yogyakarta city of Yogyakarta province


The Buginese, Makassarese, and Mandar languages from Sulawesi island used the Lontara script as their writing system. Nowadays, it is used in traditional literature and handwritten items such as wedding documents and personal letters. The Lontara script can also be seen on some street signs. It was also introduced to the nearby islands of Sumbawa and Flores, where it was adapted to the local languages. 

A street name in Makassar city of South Sulawesi province


It was a writing system created by the people of West Java to write their language called Sundanese language. They had the following criteria: 
  • It should work well with the sounds of the Sundanese language
  • It should correspond to Sundanese culture 
  • It should be simple 
  • It should reflect the Sundanese identity
The result represents a very rare attempt by a government to adopt a writing system based on history, culture, and identity rather than convenience or simplification. Nowadays the Sundanese script has been used more for touristic, artistic, and commercial purposes.

A street name in Bogor city of West Java province 


Anyone in Batak society could learn to write the Batak script, it doesn’t matter if they were poor or wealthy, particularly the young men who wrote love letters. The Batak script is used to write the Batak languages of North Sumatera province. Several font types are available for use on Macintosh, Linux, and Windows operating systems since 2020. This has made the writing and teaching of the Batak languages easier for students and educational institutions in North Sumatera province, such as the University of North Sumatera.

A street name in Samosir Island of North Sumatera province

A gateway in Samosir Island of North Sumatera province


The Balinese script is used for writing the native language of the people of Bali called the Balinese language. It is one of nearly 200 descendants of the Brahmi writing from India. In historical handwritten documents, Balinese and Javanese are almost identical. Balinese script can also be seen on the road signs, gateways to villages, temples, and government buildings.

A street name in Denpasar city of Bali province

Photo by motomoto sc on Unsplash


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