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.
Indonesia is one of the largest archipelagos 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.
Fossilized remains of Homo erectus, popularly known as the “Java Man”, suggest that the Indonesian archipelago was inhabited two million to 500,000 years ago. Austronesian people, who form the majority of the modern population, migrated to South East Asia from Taiwan. They arrived in Indonesia around 2000 BCE, and as they spread through the archipelago, confined the native Melanesian peoples to the far eastern regions. Ideal agricultural conditions, and the mastering of wet-field rice cultivation as early as the eighth century BCE, allowed villages, towns, and small kingdoms to flourish by the first century CE. Indonesia’s strategic sea-lane position fostered inter-island and international trade. For example, trade links with both Indian kingdoms and China were established several centuries BCE. Trade has since fundamentally shaped Indonesian history.
The nutmeg plant is native to Indonesia’s Banda Islands. Once one of the world’s most valuable commodities, it drew the first European colonial powers to Indonesia.
From the seventh century CE, the powerful Srivijaya naval kingdom flourished as a result of trade and the influences of Hinduism and Buddhism that were imported with it. Between the eighth and 10th centuries CE, the agricultural Buddhist Sailendra and Hindu Mataram dynasties thrived and declined in inland Java, leaving grand religious monuments such as Sailendra’s Borobudur and Mataram’s Prambanan. The Hindu Majapahit kingdom was founded in eastern Java in the late 13th century, and under Gajah Mada, its influence stretched over much of Indonesia; this period is often referred to as a “Golden Age” in Indonesian history.
Although Muslim traders first traveled through South East Asia early in the Islamic era, the earliest evidence of Islamized populations in Indonesia dates to the 13th century in northern Sumatra. Other Indonesian areas gradually adopted Islam, and it was 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, which shaped the predominant form of Islam in Indonesia, particularly in Java.
The first Europeans arrived in Indonesia in 1512, when Portuguese traders, led by Francisco Serrão, sought to monopolize the sources of nutmeg, cloves, and cubeb pepper in Maluku. Dutch and British traders followed. 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 nationalized colony.
For most of the colonial period, Dutch control over the archipelago was tenuous outside of coastal strongholds; only in the early 20th century did Dutch dominance extend to what was to become Indonesia’s current boundaries. The Japanese invasion and subsequent occupation during World War II ended Dutch rule, and encouraged the previously suppressed Indonesian independence movement. Two days after the surrender of Japan in August 1945, Sukarno, an influential nationalist leader, declared independence and was appointed president. The Netherlands tried to reestablish their rule, and an armed and diplomatic struggle ended in December 1949, when in the face of international pressure, the Dutch formally recognized Indonesian independence (with the exception of The Dutch territory of West New Guinea, which was incorporated into Indonesia following the 1962 New York Agreement, and the UN-mandated Act of Free Choice of 1969).
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.
Pancasila is the philosophic fundamentals of the state. The word “Pancasila” is derived from two Sanskrit words, “panca” which means five, and “sila” which means principle. Pancasila consists of five principles that are interrelated and inseparable, namely:
1. The belief in one God
2. A just and civilized humanism
3. Unity of Indonesia
4. Democratic citizenship lead by wise guidance born of representative consultation
5. Social just for all the people of Indonesia
Indonesia is a democratic country that applies a presidential system and Pancasila is the soul of the Indonesian democracy. Indonesia adopts a democracy that is based on the 5 principles known as the Pancasila Democracy. These state fundamentals were proclaimed by President Soekarno (the first President of Indonesia) on the Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Indonesia on 17 August 1945.
As in other democratic countries, Indonesia applies the Trias Politica that recognizes the separation of the legislative, executive and judicial bodies. The legislative authority is under the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) that consists of two bodies namely the Parliament composing of members of political parties and the Regional Representative Council (DPD) composing of representatives from each province in Indonesia. Each province is represented by 4 delegates that are elected by the people in the respective region.
The People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) is the highest state institution. Upon the Amendment of the 1945 Constitution, the membership of the MPR starting the period of 1999-2004, was amended to include not only the members of the parliament (DPR) but also the members of the DPD. Formerly the MPR consisted of the parliament members and group representatives. Currently, the MPR has 550 members from the parliament and 128 members from the Regional Representative Council (DPD). The parliament members and the DPD members are elected every five years. Since 2004, the MPR has become a bi-chamber parliament with the DPD as second chamber.
The executive institution is centralized under the president, vice president, and the cabinet of ministers. The cabinet is a presidential cabinet in which the ministers report to the president and do not represent the political parties.
Presently Indonesian government led by President Soesilo Bambang Yudhoyono popularly called with his initial “SBY”. President Yudhoyono came into power following his victory in the first ever direct presidential election held in the country in 2004. The recent general election held in 2009 gave him mandate for a second term of his presidency until 2014. Based on the constitution, Indonesian President assume his office for 5 year tenure and can be reelected once more. SB Yudhoyono is Indonesian sixth president since its indepence in 1945. Indonesian former presidents prior to SB Yudhoyono were Soekarno, Soeharto, BJ Habibie, Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Sukarnoputri.
The judicial institution -since the reform era and upon the amendment of the 1945 Constitution- is administered by the Supreme Court including the administration of the judges.
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
In the 1990’s, Indonesia’s economy experienced a set-back as a consequence of the economy crisis that hit most Asian countries. However, the economy is now relatively stable.
Indonesia has abundant natural resources outside Java including crude oil, natural gas, tin, copper and gold. Despite being the second largest exporter of natural gas, Indonesia recently has become a net importer of crude oil. The agriculture products of Indonesia include rice, tea, coffee, spices and rubber.
The major trade partners of Indonesia are Japan, the United States of America and neighboring countries namely Malaysia, Singapore and Australia.
Although Indonesia is rich in natural and human resources, the country is still facing crucial issues of poverty that mainly is caused by the wide-spread corruption in the government.
The Central Bank is Bank Indonesia.
Indonesia’s cultural art is greatly influenced by other cultures, such as the Hindu mythology and culture that is reflected in the Javanese and Balinese dances.
Many of the dances also reflect some Islamic values. Several of these dances originate from the island of Sumatra, such as the Saman Meusukat dance and the Seudati dance from Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam.
Another famous cultural item from Indonesia is the wayang kulit (shadow puppet made from goat skin) that depicts mythological characters and stories. The art of old poetry in the form of quatrain and couplet sayings from various regions such as the Malay quatrain are often cited in special occasions or in cultural performances.
One of Indonesia’s cultural heritage that has been acknowledged as a world heritage is the batik cloth. The prominent batik industry areas are in Yogyakarta, Solo, and also Pekalongan.
Pencak silat is an art of self defense which is uniquely from Indonesia. This martial art is sometimes shown at certain performances accompanied by traditional music of the region.
In the field of music, Indonesia is rich with traditional as well as modern music that extends from the city of Sabang (the western point of Indonesia) to the city of Merauke (the eastern point of Indonesia). Although traditional music including Javanese keroncong is commonly known, modern music is more popular followed by dangdut music. Dangdut is one type of music originating from Indonesia that has also become quite popular throughout the country. This type of music is a blend of Malay and Indian music with elements from traditional music as well. The name of “Dangdut “ is derived from the sounds of “dang” and “dut” (pronounced as “doot”) that come from the dominating resonances of the bongo and the flute. The Dangdut singers usually sing while dancing expressively and gracefully following the beat of the music. There are several varieties of Dangdut music namely Malay Dangdut, Modern Dangdut (using modern instruments) and Coastal Dangdut (influenced by Javanese and Sundanese traditional music). In the 1970s, Dangdut was initially recognized as a type of Malay orchestral music, but in the 1980s, this type of music became more popularly known as Dangdut music.