The Republic of Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world comprising 13,466 large and small tropical islands fringed with white sandy beaches, many still uninhabited and a number even still unnamed. Straddling the equator, situated between the continents of Asia and Australia and between the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, it is as wide as the United States from San Francisco to New York, equaling the distance between London and Moscow. Indonesia has a total population of more than 215 million people from more than 200 ethnic groups. The national language is Bahasa Indonesia.
Among the most well known islands are Sumatra, Java, Bali, Kalimantan (formerly Borneo), Sulawesi (formerly Celebes), the Maluku Islands (or better known as Moluccas, the original Spice Islands) and Papua. Then, there is Bali with its enchanting culture, beaches, dynamic dances and music. But Indonesia still has many unexplored islands with grand mountain views, green rainforests to trek through, rolling waves to surf and deep blue pristine seas to dive in where one can swim with dugongs, dolphins and large mantarays.
Because of the location, and geology, Indonesia is blessed with the most diverse landscape, from fertile ricelands on Java and Bali to the luxuriant rainforests of Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi, to the savannah grasslands of the Nusatenggara islands to snow-capped peaks of West Papua.
The wildlife ranges from the prehistoric giant Komodo lizard to the Orang Utan and the Java rhino, to the Sulawesi anoa dwarf buffalos, to birds with exquisite plumage like the cockatoo and the bird of paradise. This is also the habitat of the Rafflesia the world’s largest flower, wild orchids, an amazing variety of spices, and aromatic hardwood and a large variety of fruit trees. Underwater, scientists have found in North Sulawesi the prehistoric coelacanth fish, a “living fossil” fish, predating the dinosaurs living some 400 million years ago, while whales migrate yearly through these waters from the South Pole. Here are hundreds of species of colourful coral and tropical fish to admire.
Culturally, Indonesia fascinates with her rich diversity of ancient temples, music, ranging from the traditional to modern pop, dances, rituals and ways of life, changing from island to island, from region to region. Yet everywhere the visitor feels welcomed with that warm, gracious innate friendliness of the Indonesian people that is not easily forgotten.
Ever since prehistoric times the Indonesian archipelago has been inhabited. Java Man or pithecanthropus erectus (upright apeman) is the oldest known inhabitant here, having lived over a million years ago. Other more recent prehistoric species include the still disputed homo Floresiensis, or the Flores hobbits, dwarf people, who have also made these islands their home.
Historically, Chinese chronicles mention that trade between India, China and these islands was already thriving since the first century AD. The powerful maritime empire of Criwijaya with capital around Palembang in southern Sumatra, was the centre for Buddhism learning and was known for its wealth. It held sway over the Sumatra seas and the Malacca Straits from the 7th to the 13th. century. In the 8th -9th century, the Sailendra Dynasty of the Mataram kingdom in Central Java built the magnificent Buddhist Borobudur temple in Central Java, this was followed by the construction of the elegant Hindu Prambanan Temple built by the Civaistic king Rakai Pikatan of the Sanjaya line.
From 1294 to the 15th century the powerful Majapahit Kingdom in East Java held suzerainty over a large part of this archipelago. Meanwhile, small and large sultanates thrived on many islands of the archipelago, from Sumatra to Java and Bali, to Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Ternate and the Moluccas.
In the 13th century, Islam entered Indonesia through the trade route by way of India, and today, Islam is the religion of the majority of the population.
Throughout history, traders have brought the world’s large religions of Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam to this archipelago, deeply influencing this country’s culture and way of life. Yet Indonesia was never conquered by India nor China, until Europeans came and colonized these islands.
Marco Polo was the first European to set foot on Sumatra. Later, in search for the Spice Islands the Portuguese and Spaniards arrived in these islands sailing around the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa. In 1596 the first Dutch vessels anchored at the shores of West Java after a long voyage.? Over the next three centuries, the Dutch gradually colonized this archipelago until it became known as the Dutch East Indies.
But revolt against the colonizers soon built up throughout the country. The Indonesian youth, in their Youth Pledge of 1928 vowed together to build “One Country, One Nation and One Language: Indonesia”, regardless of race, religion, language or ethnic background in the territory then known as the Dutch East Indies.
Finally, on 17 August 1945, after the defeat of the Japanese in the Second World War, the Indonesian people declared their Independence through their leaders Soekarno and Hatta. Freedom, however was not easily granted. Only after years of bloody fighting did the Dutch government finally relent, officially recognizing Indonesia’s Independence in 1950.
Jakarta, located on the north coast of western Java is the capital of the Republic of Indonesia. It is the seat of government, and center of business and finance. A large, modern metropolitan city with a population of 9 million people, Jakarta is a melting pot of all different ethnic groups in the archipelago.
Today, after six decades of freedom, Indonesia has become the third largest democracy in the world.
Flora and Fauna
Indonesias moderate climate throughout the year, its fertile soil brought about by lava, and its minerals found on land and in the sea caused by volcanic eruptions, have made this the ideal habitat for a large number of unique and endemic flora and fauna. Indonesia has among the most diverse variety of species of animal life on land and in the seas found anywhere in the world.
To preserve these unique flora and fauna Indonesia has designated 44 national parks throughout the archipelago, covering both land and sea, a large number of protected reserves offering ecotourism opportunities, as well as botanic gardens and zoos.
Being a tropical country, Indonesia is blessed with two seasons, namely dry and rainy. Dry usually occurs from June to September and the rest is rainy season. Sunshine is abundant except in rainy season when the sky tends to be cloudy. It is advisable to visit Indonesia during dry season.
People and Culture
Living on more than 13,400 islands, the Indonesian nation today counts some 200 million population comprising more than 200 ethnic groups. After Independence in 1945 inter-marriages among people of different ethnic groups have welded the population into a more cohesive Indonesian nation.
The majority of the population embraces Islam, while in Bali the Hindu religion is predominant. Whereas in areas like the Minahasa in North Sulawesi, the Toraja highlands in South Sulawesi, in the East Nusatenggara islands and in large parts of Papua, in the Batak highlands as well as on Nias island in North Sumatra, the majority are either Catholics or Protestants. On the whole the Indonesian people are religious in nature.
Pancasila, the five principles of nationhood, – namely Belief in the One and Only God, a Just and Civilized Humanity, the Unity of Indonesia, Democracy through unanimous deliberations, and Social Justice for all – Indonesian societies are open and remain tolerant towards one anothers religion, customs and traditions, all the while faithfully adhering to their own. The Indonesian coat of arms moreover bears the motto: Bhinneka Tunggal Ika Unity in Diversity.