- Last Updated on 06 May 2013
"...Indonesia is now the world's third most populous democracy state...," (IndexMundi.com)
The History of Indonesia was shaped by its geographic position, its natural resources, the series of human migrations, contacts, economy and trade, conquests and politics.
Indonesia is an archipelagic country of 17,508 islands (6,000 inhabited) stretching along the equator in South East Asia. The country's strategic sea-lane position fostered inter-island and international trade; trade has since fundamentally shaped Indonesian history.
The area of Indonesia is populated by peoples of various migrations, creating a diversity of cultures, ethnicities, and languages. The archipelago's landforms and climate significantly influenced agriculture and trade, and the formation of states.
Fossilised remains of Homo erectus and his tools, popularly known as the "Java Man", suggest the Indonesian archipelago was inhabited by at least 1.5 million years ago.
Austronesian people, who form the majority of the modern population, are thought to have originally been from Taiwan and arrived in Indonesia around 2000 BCE.
From the 7th century CE, the powerful Srivijaya naval kingdom flourished bringing Hindu and Buddhist influences with it. The agricultural Buddhist Sailendra and Hindu Mataram dynasties subsequently thrived and declined in inland Java.
The last significant non-Muslim kingdom, the Hindu Majapahit kingdom, flourished from the late 13th century, and its influence stretched over much of Indonesia.
The earliest evidence of Islamised populations in Indonesia dates to the 13th century in northern Sumatra; other Indonesian areas gradually adopted Islam which became the dominant religion in Java and Sumatra by the end of the 16th century. For the most part, Islam overlaid and mixed with existing cultural and religious influences.
Europeans arrived in Indonesia from the 16th century seeking to monopolise the sources of valuable nutmeg, cloves, and cubeb pepper in Maluku. In 1602 the Dutch established the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and became the dominant European power.
Following bankruptcy, the VOC was formally dissolved in 1800, and the government of the Netherlands established the Dutch East Indies as a nationalised colony. By the early 20th century Dutch dominance extended to what was to become Indonesia's current boundaries.
The Japanese invasion and subsequent occupation during WWII ended Dutch rule, and encouraged the previously suppressed Indonesian independence movement. Two days after the surrender of Japan in August 1945, nationalist leader, Sukarno, declared independence and was appointed president.
The Netherlands tried to reestablish their rule, but a bitter armed and diplomatic struggle ended in December 1949, when in the face of international pressure, the Dutch formally recognised Indonesian independence.
An attempted coup in 1965 led to a violent army-led anti-communist purge in which over half a million people were killed. General Suharto politically out-manoeuvred President Sukarno, and was formally appointed president in March 1968.
His New Order administration garnered the favour of the West whose investment in Indonesia was a major factor in the subsequent three decades of substantial economic growth.
In the late 1990s, however, Indonesia was the country hardest hit by the East Asian Financial Crisis which led to popular protests and Suharto's resignation on 21 May 1998.
The Reformasi era following Suharto's resignation, has led to a strengthening of democratic processes, including a regional autonomy program, the secession of East Timor, and the first direct presidential election in 2004.
Indonesia is now the world's third most populous democracy, the world's largest archipelagic state, and home to the world's largest Muslim population.
Indonesia is a nation of islands. According to the country's Naval Hydro-Oceanographic Office, it contains some 17,508 islands, although only about 6,000 are inhabited. In fact, the country's island identity is part of its name. "Indonesia" has its roots in two Greek words: Indos meaning "Indian" and Nesos which means "islands."
The country stretches around the equator for 5,150 km (3,200 miles) - roughly the distance between Los Angeles and New York . The comparative map below should give you an idea of the country's size. It is the largest archipelago in the world.
Strategically, the country lies between the Australian and Asian continents and the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Seas and oceans comprise 81 percent of the total area of the Republic. Of its land area of 1,919,440 sq km, rivers and lakes occupy 93,000 sq km and land features 1,826,440 sq km.
Five main islands and 30 smaller archipelagos are home to the majority of the population. The main islands are Kalimantan (1,539,400 sq km), Sumatra (473,606 sq km), Irian Jaya (421,981 sq km), Sulawesi (189,216 sq km), and Java (132,187 sq km). Java alone is home to roughly 70 percent of the country's population!
Indonesia shares the island of Papua with Papua New Guinea and the island of Kalimantan with Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam.
Across the country, the land is generally covered by thick tropical rain forests, where fertile soil is continuously replenished by volcanic eruptions like those on the island of Java . But Indonesia is also mountainous, with some 400 volcanoes, of which 100 are still active.
Climate and Weather
Indonesia 's monsoon-type climate changes approximately every six months, although, in recent years, global warming has somewhat disrupted weather patterns. The dry season for the west part of Indonesia is from May to October and the wet season is from November to April. The dry and wet seasons in eastern Indonesia are the opposite.
Due to the large number of islands and mountains in the country, temperatures vary. Along the coastal plains, the average is 28°C (82°F); for inland and mountain areas, it is 26°C (79°F); and, in the higher mountain areas, the average is around 23°C (73°F). Like other tropical countries, Indonesia has a high average relative humidity, usually between 73 and 87 percent.
Flora and Fauna
Within the Indonesian archipelago lies one of the most remarkable zoological zones on the planet. Home of the most diverse flora and fauna in the world, Indonesia has 10 percent of all flowering plant species, 12 percent of mammal species, 17 percent of bird species and 25 percent of the world's species of fish.