A Historical Glimpse on Indonesia
The first known hominid inhabitant of Indonesia was the so-called “Java Man”, or Homo erectus, who lived here half a million years ago. Some 60,000 years ago, the ancestors of the present-day Papuans move eastward through these islands, eventually reaching New Guinea and Australia some 30-40,000 years ago. Much later, in about the fourth millennium B.C., they were followed by the ancestors of the modern-day Malays, Javanese and other Malay-Polynesian groups who now make up the bulk of Indonesia’s population.
Trade contracts with India, China and the mainland of Southeast Asia brought outside cultural and religious influences to Indonesia. One of the first Indianized empires, known to us now as Sriwijaya, was located on the coast of Sumatra around the strategic straits of Malacca, serving as the hub of a trading network that reached to many parts of the archipelago more than a thousand years ago.
On neighboring Java, large kingdoms of the interior of the island erected scores of exquisite of religious monuments, such as Borobudur, the largest Buddhist monument in the world. The last and most powerful of these early Hindu-Javanese kingdoms, the 14th century Majapahit Empire, once controlled and influenced much of what is now known as Indonesia, maintaining contacts with trading outposts as far away as the west coast of Papua New Guinea.
Indian Muslim traders began spreading Islam in Indonesia in the eighth and ninth centuries. By the time Marco Polo visited North Sumatra at the end of the 13th century, the first Islamic states were already established there. Soon afterward, rulers on Java’s north coast adopted the new creed and conquered the Hindu-based Majapahit Empire in the Javanese hinterland. The faith gradually spread throughout archipelago, and Indonesia is today the world’s largest Islamic nation.
Indonesia’s abundant spices first brought Portuguese merchants to the key trading port of Malacca in 1511. Prized for their flavor, spices such as cloves, nutmeg and mace were also believed to cure everything from the plague to venereal disease, and were literally worth their weight in gold. The Dutch eventually wrested control of the spice trade from Portuguese, and the tenacious Dutch East India Company (known by initials VOC) established a spice monopoly which lasted well into the 18th century. During the 19th century, the Dutch began sugar and coffee cultivation on Java, which was soon providing three-fourths of the world supply of coffee.
By the turn of the 20th century, nationalist stirring, brought about by nearly three centuries of oppressive colonial rule, began to challenge the Dutch presence in Indonesia. A four-year guerilla war led by nationalists against the Dutch on Java after World War II, along with successful diplomatic maneuverings abroad, helped bring about independence. The Republic of Indonesia, officially proclaimed on August 17th, 1945.
During the first two decades of independence, the republic was dominated by the charismatic figure of Sukarno, one of the early nationalists who had been imprisoned by the Dutch. General (ret.) Soeharto eased Sukarno from power in 1967. Indonesia’s economy was sustained throughout the 1970’s, almost exclusively by oil export.
The Asian financial crisis, which broke out in mid-1997, paralyzed the Indonesian economy with the rupiah losing 80% of its value against the US dollar at the peak of the turmoil.
On May 21, 1998, Soeharto resigned after 32 years in power and was replaced by B.J. Habibie following bloody violence and riots. Indonesia held its first democratic election in October 1999, which put Abdurrahman ‘Gus Dur’ Wahid in the role of president.
Then vice president Megawati assumed the presidency in July 2001 after incumbent president Wahid was impeached by a special session of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), the country’s highest law making body.
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, also known by his initials SBY, won over voters in Indonesia’s first democratic elections in 2004 and reelected again in 2009. He leads the country with his image as a man of integrity, a strong communicator and firm leader in times of crisis.
Under Suharto, Indonesia had experienced solid economic growth in tandem with an autocratic political system. Then came the Asian economic crisis which brought a temporary end to high economic growth and perhaps a permanent end to dictatorship. Instead it has moved solidly into the ranks of genuine democracies, defined for the purposes of this essay as nations where the people can and do change their government through peaceful, popular elections. Indonesia has also recovered respectable if not stellar economic growth.
So far, Indonesia has achieved all the democratic stability. Most importantly, Indonesia is socially stable, strongly committed to combating terrorism, militarily calm and is increasingly itself giving voice to democratic values in its own foreign policy, and in its natural leadership of ASEAN policy.
Indonesia is the largest archipelagic state in the world that has 17,508 islands, situated between 6 degrees northern latitude and 11 degrees southern latitude and spreading from 97 degrees to 141 degrees eastern longitude and it is located between two continents – Asia and Australia/Oceania. This strategic position greatly influences the country’s culture, social, politics and economy.
Stretching along 3,977 miles between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, Indonesia has a total area of 1.9 million square miles including the ocean waters. The five large islands of Indonesia are: Sumatera covering 473.606 square km, Java with 132.107 square km, Kalimantan (the third largest island in the world) with an area of 539.460 square km, Sulawesi with 189.216 square km, and Papua with an area of 421.981 square km.
The islands of Indonesia were formed in the Miocene age (12 million years BC); Palaeocene age (70 million years BC); Eocene age (30 million years BC); Oligacene age (25 million years BC). As people from Asia started to migrate, it is believed that Indonesia existed since the Pleistocene age (4 million years BC). The islands have a great effect on the change of the Australian and Pacific tectonic plate. The Australian plate changes slowly with an upward movement into the small plates of the Pacific plate that moves southward. Between these lines, the islands of Indonesia are stretched out.
This makes Indonesia as one of the most changing geological area in the world. There are 400 volcanic mountains – which 100 of them are active- that dot the islands of Indonesia. Every day Indonesia experiences three vibrations, at least one earthquake a day and one volcanic eruption in a year.
The population of Indonesia can be divided into two major groups: in the western region most of the people are from the Malay ethnicity while in the eastern region there are the Papuans originating from the Melanesian Islands. Indonesia also recognizes specific ethnic groups that come from a certain province/area and have specific language for example the Javanese from Central or East Java, the Sundanese from West Java or the Batak ethnicity from North Sumatra.
In addition, there are also minority ethnicities derived from Chinese, Indian and Arabic descendents. These people travelled as merchants through trade exchange since the 8th century BC and migrated to Indonesia. Approximately 3% of the population is from Chinese ethnicity, although the exact percentage is not known as the last ethnicity census was held in the 1930s.
Islam is the major religion of 85.2% of the population, designating Indonesia as the largest Moslem country in the world. The remaining population consists of Protestants (8.9%); Catholics (3%); Hindus (1.8%); Buddhists (0.8%) and other religion (0.3%).
Many Indonesians speak their ethnic language as their mother tongue. However, the Indonesian language is the official language and it is taught at all schools and most Indonesians are proficient in using the language for communication.
Indonesia has 33 provinces (including 2 Special Territories of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam and Yogyakarta) and one Special Capital Region of Jakarta (DKI). East Timor was once part of Indonesia, but then through a referendum in 1999, East Timor became the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste.
Provinces in Indonesia
Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam | North Sumatera | West Sumatera | Bengkulu | Riau | Riau Islands | Jambi | South Sumatera | Lampung | Bangka Belitung Islands
Jakarta | West Java | Banten | Central Java | Yogyakarta Special Territory | East Java
West Kalimantan | Central Kalimantan | South Kalimantan | East Kalimantan
Bali | West Tenggara Barat | East Nusa Tenggara
West Sulawesi | North Sulawesi | Central Sulawesi | South Sulawesi | South East Sulawesi | Gorontalo
Maluku and Papua Islands
Maluku | North Maluku | West Papua | Papua