Ende, Soekarno and the Pancasila in Indonesia

Many people outside Indonesia don’t know how the country was born and have never heard of Pancasila, so this post marks a dramatic shift from exotic beach travel to politics and culture

First Climb Kelimutu

You’ll understand the context of this later, so keep reading for now. Kelimutu Eco Lodge was already dark when we arrived, and so I went to sleep. I woke up at two a.m. leapt out of bed and got ready to go to climb the mountain. Grunts from my roommate made me realise we weren’t supposed to get up till three a.m. and so, ashamedly, I went back to sleep!

At the agreed time, we took three cars and ten people up the winding road to Kelimutu Car Park. From there, climbing Kelimutu to watch the sunrise takes about forty-five minutes, but it feels a bit further in the dark. The path is concrete steps with railings, so it would be suitable for kids and elderlies.

(Above slides show Kelimutu and the event sign)

The locals think Kelimutu is a spiritual place, with young, old and evil spirits allocated to different lakes. Nowadays for most visitors, the magic is the sunrise and the clouds that condense over the craters. Kelimutu is indeed a spectacular sight, with three volcanic lakes which change color according to the minerals released from the vents below the surface. I’d love to go back there and spend a whole day watching the interplay of colours. 



(Slides show the dancers celebrating Pancasila)

We watched the sunrise and were about to leave when a large group of people in ethnic dress showed up on the top of the mountain for the first stage of the Pancasila celebration. They did some dancing and singing, and a man passionately read the Pancasila from the summit plinth. The mountain top celebration marked the start of the two days of the event I had come to see. I spoke to the fashion designer who had dressed the participants and she described how important she thought it was to keep up the manufacture and wearing of traditional clothes, and also how to tell if they were designed for men or women. 


Rumah Bung Karno

My next destination was Rumah Bung Karno, or Soekarno’s house. It’s a modest white and yellow bungalow near the sea front in Ende. The house still has Soekarno’s furniture, a few domestic objects, some bookcases and extracts from Soekarno’s writings.

For me, the highlight was having a wash in Soekarno’s well. In his backyard, there is a deep hole, and the water is supposed to have magical properties. If you wash with the water, you get younger and more beautiful. I’m clearly in need in both of those characteristics, so I took the rope. The well was deep and the bucket had holes in, but I hauled some water, and splashed it onto my face. I’m still waiting for firm results but I’ll keep you posted. I was also lucky enough to pray in the same mushollah that Soekarno used on a daily basis, although it is normally closed off for the public.

(slides show Soekarno’s furniture and domestic objects)

Exiled to Ende, and this house, by the Dutch for stirring up the independence movement in the 1930’s, Soekarno wrote some of his literary material. He also had time to meditate and think about his vision for the future of the country. It was here that the first draft of the Pancsila came into being. There are a lot of sources about this on the internet, and many Indonesian people learn a history by rote in their school days. Now, June 1st is a national holiday to celebrate the Pancasila.

Evening celebration and tribal dance off

In the evening, there was a celebration in the main square, with dancers and singers. It was fairly modest, although proceedings were enlivened when the all the leaders of many parts of Flores were invited on stage to sing, and then formed an impromptu circle of tribal style dancing in front of the stage. It was a clear signal that even though the Pancasila connects the nation, local politics are very important, and still closely connected to the tribal origins of the area.

(slides show Soekarno’s writing and Pancasila celebration)

Boat docking, flag raising and closing ceremony

The next morning, everyone trooped to the jetty to watch the sea parade, and the docking of a large Indonesian Navy command vessel. Lots of smaller craft darted back and forth, fluttering flags and blasting music, until the big ship came close. As a command ship, it was old – commissioned in 1961 – certainly lightly armed and armoured, and definitely not the kind of shore pounding destroyer or frigate that would have made me really excited.

(slides show people in the Pancasila parade)

Once we had received the flags from the boat, everyone walked to the parade ground and watched the flag raising ceremony. Around the edges, people from all over Ende and Flores had assembled to mark their respect for the Pancasila and Soekarno himself. I had a walk round, laughing at the soldiers who told me to stop filming, perhaps forgetting they were in a public parade with media from all over the world invited and camera toting drones buzzing constantly overhead!

At these events I always try to find the most interesting hat, and sure enough, it was being worn by a tribal leader from Alor, which is still very traditional. The man was carrying a bow and arrow, which was complete with sharp points, and bits of skin still attached. I asked him if he hunted rats or birds, and he replied that he hunted deer and pig. I added another destination to my bucket list. 


(slides show the Pancasila parade and Flores cloth or kain)

Pancasila Insight

For a lot of this event, I felt like an outsider looking in. The people on the top of Kelimutu displayed a passion for nationhood that I really couldn’t empathise with, which points towards why I now live so far from my home nation. The display of of navy and marching special forces underlined the interweaving of state ideology and military power, particularly for achieving domestic goals. The Pancasila is a well loved and respected philosophy in Indonesia and is arguably more important than ever in the contemporary political climate. It has it’s critics, and Soekarno has been described as a wartime collaborator, a fantasist and a communist sympathiser. 

More positive descriptions of Soekarno depict him as a man of the people, an intellectual, a visionary, and the only man capable of moulding the sprawling, diverse islands into the modern state of Indonesia without bloodshed. Through his insight, Indonesian people claim their motto, as “Unity through diversity” which is undoubtably a clever piece of rhetoric. In his vision, Indonesia was established as a secular nation and should resist the calls to strengthen any part of any particular religious doctrine to please small but noisy groups.

End notes: What is Pancasila?

Quoting from Wikipedia:

“Pancasila (pantʃaˈsila) is the official, foundational philosophical theory of the Indonesian state. Pancasila comprises two Old Javanese words originally derived from Sanskrit: “pañca” (“five”) and “sīla” (“principles”).

Thus it is composed of five principles and contends that they are inseparable and interrelated:

1) A Divinity that is an ultimate unity (in Indonesian “Ketuhanan Yang Maha Esa”),

2) A just and civilized humanity (in Indonesian “Kemanusiaan Yang Adil dan Beradab”),

3) The national unity of Indonesia (in Indonesian “Persatuan Indonesia”),

4) Democracy predicated on the inherent wisdom of unanimity arising from deliberation among popular representatives (in Indonesian “Kerakyatan Yang Dipimpin oleh Hikmat Kebijaksanaan, Dalam Permusyawaratan Perwakilan”), and

5) Social justice for all Indonesian people (in Indonesian “Keadilan Sosial bagi seluruh Rakyat Indonesia”).”

So, the Pancasila is Indonesia’s founding philosophy.

Fact File:


  • Kelimutu Crater Lakes Eco Lodge
  • Grand Wisata Ende


  • From Jakarta to Ende via Kupang
  • From Ende to Jakarta via Labuan Bajo and Bali


  • Kelimutu Crater Lakes
  • Rumah Bung Karno – Soekarno’s house



Any questions about Pancasila or comments on this post? Have you been to Kelimutu or Ende, or did you take part in a Pancasila celebration. I’d love to hear your story, so comment below or email me at mystory@hellomister.net

Don’t forget to read my other cultural posts from LarantukaArt:one or Ruci, and check my youtube channel for new videos. Don’t forget to subscribe to the blog, and to youtube! 

23 thoughts on “Ende, Soekarno and the Pancasila in Indonesia

  1. Hi, I went to Kelimutu in 1983.
    I am pretty sure there were no steps then. We just drove up to the top of the mountain where the lakes are.
    Going at dawn isn’t essential. I was there at about one in the afternoon and the views were splendid. However, I’ve heard of others going and finding it was too misty. Perhaps the advantage of going at dawn is that it improves the probability of good sunny conditions.
    Although I believe the lakes change colour periodically, their colours in my photos are just the same as in yours.

    • Yeah. It is great all day. I’d love to camp there actually and watch the place changing over a few days. Maybe the colour changing is part of the myth! I wish I had been here 30 years ago…you must have a good collection of pics! Maybe you could scan them?

  2. Hi
    I like the history, all I remember is the western anti Soekarno propaganda when I was at college. The 5 principles are interesting, because they demonstrate that he wasn’t a threat to us. I have just read that your government is carrying out a count of all the islands that make up Indonesia to take to the UN. So you have got a job for life if you want to visit all of them. Please keep sending the email as I am going to come off facebook – too many weirdos!

    • Yes. He was accused of sympathising with the Communist Party at a time of great sensitivity in the region. It’s impossible to know exactly what any alternative outcomes would be but http://johnpilger.com/videos/the-new-rulers-of-the-world presents an overview of some of the things that happened at the end of his leadership period.

      There are 17,000 islands to visit, so even if you did 3 a week, it would take over a century to do them all! People underestimate the mind boggling size of this country.

    • Yeah. It was really beautiful on the mountain top. The rest of the Pancasila ceremony was more difficult to appreciate because it is really aimed at Indonesian people.

  3. The view of Kelimutu Lake is simply stunning. And you’re right: not a whole lot of people know much about Indonesian history and culture. There’s just something magical about waking up before dawn to catch a beautiful view!

  4. What an interesting time you must have had, seeing another side of your country. I love reading about other parts of Indonesia, not just Bali. I giggled at your getting up too early for the trek though as I remember doing exactly the same thing in Borneo aged 19 when climbing a mountain there.

  5. I really would have loved to find your “End Note” ‘What is Pancasila?’ at the beginning of this post. The entire time, reading through it, I was distracted by the question running through my head ‘What is this Pancasila?”. It might be clear to you as an Indonesian, for me it was vital information I was missing – hence I couldn’t put any of the celebrations or the importance of Soekarno into proper context…

    • Hehe, I’m not Indonesian, but I have read about the history of the country, and been exposed to the stories of it’s significant people as well. I will rearrange the info and see if it reads better. Cheers!

  6. With Pancasila as the founding philosophy if Indonesia, it’s interesting to know how different religious and beliefs came about in the country. The sunrise at Kelimutu looks stunning and the walk up there looks like quite the work out. It’s funny how you woke up so early to climb it, that would be me except it would be out of excitement!

    • Yeah well Indonesia has a massive history, with early civilisations dated at 40,000 years as I understand it. Despite the fact that it is on the ‘wrong side of the world’ for the global hegemonies, it is really at a global crossroads so people from all countries have ended up up right across time.

  7. I’m completely in awe that you visited this stunning place. The most we read about in Indonesia is always on Bali, or Yogakarta. Kelimutu is absolutely incredible, and you’ve gained a new follower to your work! Oh, and by the way, I would jump into that well feet first to get me some youth and beauty 😛

    • Unfortunately I’m still waiting for the results to kick in properly. Until then I must remain tired looking, old and battered like a well travelled suitcase. You are right though. Indonesia is massive, and varies tremendously in what you can find here, and the vast majority of people barely have time to scratch the surface. Thank you

  8. This place is so gorgeous! I really love the mountain view and your picture left me in awe. I also love the portraits of the locals there. They all look so happy! I would love to visit Indonesia one day to observe these!

  9. Kelimutu is truly so beautiful! I can definitely see why many people go to see the magic of the sunrise and the clouds, and why the Indonesian people consider to be a sacred place! Were you there on a tour? It’s interesting to see how many traditional ceremonies you attended while you were there, and I wonder if that’s something they do for the sake of tourists, which makes me feel uncomfortable. It’s also interesting that the soldiers asked you to stop filming when there were other photographers and drones flying around, as you mentioned. Did they say why?

    • I was invited by the Indonesian government, and the whole weekend was dedicated to celebrating the Pancasila and it’s creator, Soekarno, who lived some of his life in the town. To be honest, comments like “doing something for the sake of the tourists”, don’t really get to the heart of what is happening here. If you can tell me where pageantry, visitor ceremonies, religious rites and tribal gatherings stop, and tourism starts, I’d be really interested to hear it. When I first started travelling, I was curious about ideas like authenticity and commercialisation, and how those overlap with modern and traditional belief systems, but now, I acknowledge that they exist side by side in the maelstrom of other cultural values in this world we inhabit. Furthermore, if you read the post, you’d see that Pancasila Day is a national holiday in Indonesia for Indonesians to celebrate the birth of their nation and it’s philosophy!

  10. The photos you took at dusk and dawn are impeccable! I love how the smoke and mist are captured in both of those photos. The details you captured in your photos are gorgeous.

    • The place is famous for it’s ever changing light and the colors of the water in the lakes changes as well. I’d love a sponsor to set me up in a tent with a camera!

  11. Your post reminded me of my own trip to Kelimutu. I too, did the sunrise trek and it was so beautiful. The first look at those bewitched lakes was one thing that I don’t think I would ever forget. It sure was a fantastic experience and I can see how much you enjoyed yours too. Cheers

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