Indonesia has a rich and fascinating history. Whether you have been to Indonesia on vacation or heard President Obama speaking Bahasa, you’ll be interested in this archipelago.
As its elections approach in the coming year, you can expect to see more about this country in the news. Be prepared by brushing up on some facts about Indonesia.
Early History of Indonesia
One of the earliest settlers of this country is quite well-known. Referred to as Java Man, he is one of the first Homo erectus specimens discovered. Fossil records suggest that he and other hominids lived in Indonesia more than one million years ago.
The next known inhabitants were the Malays, who arrived in Indonesia c. 4000 BC. Much of the current population descends from the Malays.
Following the Malays were the Dong Son people, from Vietnam. When they arrived soon after 1000 BC, they spread their knowledge of casting bronze, raising cattle and growing rice with the help of irrigation.
Around the 1st century AD, Indonesia’s religion and economy were changing.
Indonesia’s location along the ocean routes between China and India allowed its people to trade material goods such as spices and gold, and practice new religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism.
During the 9th century, Muslims from India started to tell the inhabitants of Indonesia about Islam. By the 14th century, the empires in the area that were mainly Buddhist and Hindu had been conquered, further spreading Islamic beliefs. This explains why modern Indonesia has one of the largest Muslim populations of any country.
Colonization and Independence
The Dutch started colonizing Indonesia by the 17th century. They were drawn to Indonesia’s unique spices their potential for the trading industry.
As a result, the Dutch East India Company took over and created a monopoly on spices.
When the 20th century arrived, the Indonesians began to fight back in order to achieve independence. They also rebelled against the Japanese, who occupied the nation for three years during World War II.
Finally, after four years of standing their ground, the Indonesians declared independence for their country in 1945. However, they did not receive sovereignty until 1949.
The Road to Democracy
Indonesians still struggled after declaring independence: a nationalist named Sukarno was appointed president in the same year and eventually declared martial law. General Suharto ultimately removed him from power and was president from 1967 until 1988. During this time, the economy relied on the country’s ability to export oil to other nations.
Indonesia’s citizens began rioting in 1998 due to a financial crisis, leading to Suharto’s resignation.
The following year the country had its very first democratic election. Abdurrahman Wahid was elected president, though he was impeached and removed from power in 2001.
Today, Indonesia is the third most populous democracy in the world and led by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
- Full name: Republic of Indonesia
- Population: 250 million
- Capital: Jakarta
- Major Language: Bahasa Indonesia
- Major Religion: Muslim
- Life expectancy: 69 years (for men), 74 years (for women)
- Main exports: oil, textiles, electrical appliances, rubber, plywood