100+ Indonesian Cultural Words – Meaning

Hi. Welcome back again to Mastering Bahasa!

After learn about Balinese Swear Words, of course you may also wonder another Indonesian Cultural Word that you should know. Even though all of the word must be related to certain history and cultural aspects, this time the lesson will be more focused to more general and common Indonesian Cultural Words. Most of it will be very difficult to be equally translated to other languages (Check Indonesian Words with No English Equivalent and Indonesian Idioms and Proverbs). So, do not waste anytime and let’s check the words!

Title for Person

As you know in Indonesian Greeting Etiquette and Manners, you should not call someone (older especially) with their name only. On the other words, you need to add title before their name. Because Indonesia has very diverse ethnicity, there are different words for same title. Take a look!

  • Bapak = Sir/Mr. …. (for much older/respected male)
  • Ibu = Mam/Mrs./Ms… (for much older/respected female)
  • Mas = (for not much older/peer male–derived from Javanese for older brother)
    *it is also for stranger, such as taxi/ojek driver, people we have just met
  • Mbak = (for not much older/peer female–derived from Javanese for older sister)
    *it is also for stranger, such as female taxi/ojek driver, people we have just met
  • Abang/Bang = (similar with Mas — derived from Malay for older brother)
    *usually it used in the big metropolitan city
  • Aa [aʔa] /Akang = (for not much older/peer male–derived from Sundanese for older brother)
    *usually used in Sundanese majority city, such as Bandung
  • Neng = (for girl/woman — derived from Sundanese for a girl from respected family)
  • Koko = (similar to ‘Mas’ but usually used to Chinese-Indonesian male)
  • Cici = (similar to ‘Mbak’ but usually used to Chinese-Indonesian female)
  • Babe = father (derived from Betawi language, also used to as informal ‘Bapak’)
  • Nyak = mother (derived from Betawi language)
  • Abah = father (derived from Arabic, also used ad informal ‘Bapak’)
  • Umi = mother (derived from Arabic)

Notes: Even though some of them are synonyms and grammatically same, they all have different meaning and sense. In fact, because its stereotypical meaning, using or switching one and another may cause some problems, depends on each person sensitivity. So, be wise!

More Indonesian Cultural Words

Here are other examples of it! Check it out! 

Related to Transportation

  • ojek = motorcycle-taxi
  • ojol (ojek online) = online motorcycle-taxi
  • opang (ojek pangkalan) = offline motorcycle-taxi
  • ojek payung = several people that provide/lend an umbrella to pedestrian when it rains (usually for crossing roads to get into car/building) for some price
  • becak = three-wheeler bike-wagon
  • bentor (becak motor) = three-wheeler motorbike-wagon (usually in Gorontalo and Medan)
    *in several city in Java, it still be called ‘becak’
  • bemo (becak motor) =  was a three-wheeler small car
  • andong/delman = Indonesian horse-wagon (could take more/less 8 people, very traditional)
    *it is different with Cinderella’s
  • kereta = train, but in Sumatra it refers to ‘car’
  • bajaj [bajay] = a three-wheeler motor vehicle (from India), usually could take 3 person
  • angkot (angkutan kota) = city/public transportation which shape similar like mini-minibus that marked with different color depends on their area
  • busway = has literal meaning of transjakarta (Jakarta city bus) route, but usually misinterpreted as ‘the bus’
  • spoor [səpur] = train (mostly known by Java citizen) — it derived from Dutch spoor that means train rail, but misinterpreted as ‘train’

Related to Amount of Money

Beside common Indonesian Numbers, you might usually found Hokkien/Khek terms for numbers in transactions (mostly) in big city such as Jakarta and Medan. Here are the common ones.

  • cepe = 100
  • nope = 200
  • sape = 300
  • sipe = 400
  • gope = 500
  • lakpe = 600
  • nopeceng = 200.000
  • gopeceng = 500.000
    *usually the ‘ceng’ is deleted because Indonesian money has bigger nominal than others currency, so it’s rare to find a thing that still worth under 1.000 Rupiah
  • cetiao = 1.000.000

Paper Currency

  • ceceng = 1.000
  • noceng = 2.000
  • goceng = 5.000
  • ceban = 10.000
  • noban = 20.000
  • goban = 50.000
  • cepeceng = 100.000

Other Words

  • bini = informal for wife
  • laki = informal for husband
    *also for ‘manly’
  • kumpul kebo = a couple live together without marriage
    *it is still unusual, taboo, and prohibited in Indonesia, especially by the religions
  • perawan = female virgin
  • perjaka = male virgin
  • gadis = a girl or soften word for ‘female virgin’/’still virgin’
    *there is no equivalent term for boys
  • menikahi = marry (someone) [male to female]
    *it is still taboo in several culture to say ‘a woman marry (menikahi) a man’
    Check: Indonesian Prefixes and Suffixes
  • cewek = informal word for woman (used frequently)
  • cowok = informal word for man (used frequently)
  • alay = cheesy-act person (either has strange outfit or embarrassing behavior)
  • mendes = female alay (usually in Javanese-speaking area)
  • gondes = male alay (usually in Javanese-speaking area)
  • nyeker = informal words for barefoot
  • ayu = beautiful, but usually related to Javanese beauty (similar with geulis in Sundanese)
  • priyayi = Javanese noble (or recently is Javanese noble-ish)
  • blusukan = go to see and watch people (in context of nation) condition as down to earth act. Usually it happened in slum area or traditional market. Popularized by Joko Widodo.
  • sotoy = think/act like knows everything, but they’re not
  • kepo = (too) curious
  • kuy = it is reversed form of ‘yuk’ that means c’mon
  • sikat = the literal meaning is ‘brush’, but it is a slang word for very confident and spiritful ‘yes’
  • gas = similar to ‘sikat’ (literal meaning is ‘gas’ like in the car to speed-up)
  • budaya = culture

Now you have broaden your knowledge with these Indonesian Cultural Words. To enhance your skill, I recommend you to check these following articles!

Good luck!