Bundled up amongst beautiful beaches, wild volcanoes and the Indian and Pacific Oceans is the island country of Indonesia, the world’s largest inhabited island. The breathtaking beauty of this land meshed with its rich history and culture makes it one of the most desirable vacation spots in the world. But apart from the exotic and mesmerising beauty of this land, its history is what fascinates the mind.
Prehistory: The Java man
Indonesia has human history records tracing back 1.7-1.5 million years when the fossils of early human ancestors were uncovered in the Java islands. These fossils were discovered by a young Dutch anatomist, Eugene Dubois in the village Trinil, Java. Hence the name “Java man”. This discovery made the archipelagic island of Indonesia the “birthplace of humanity” for an extended period.
Indonesia is an archipelago stretching from the mainland to the Pacific Ocean. Hence, it has marked history for each of its territories. With ancestors returned to dust, the forefathers of the modern Indonesian men are thought to have arrived from Taiwan (Austronesians) around 2nd century BCE. They practised the animist religion and believed that all entities – plants, animals, rocks, mountains and rivers had a soul to be either worshipped or satisfied.
Influence of Hinduism
Hinduism is considered to have travelled to Indonesia through two routes; however this has remained a subject of debate. Indonesia was a hot spot for natural resources and spices which much attracted the traders and merchants. Kingdoms on the Java and Sumatra islands under the Hindu influence flourished as early was 3rd Century BCE, and by the 7th Century, the Hindu-Buddhist kingdom of Srivijaya emerged in Sumatra.
The Hindu-Indonesian Period The Hindu-Indonesian period saw the introduction of Hinduism into the land with religion and ritual, literature, architecture, art forms and the caste system flourishing across the empire. The straits of Malacca played a crucial role in the trade and commerce of the ruling kingdoms as it held the door to China and therefore, whoever ruled this part became the most powerful.
Buddhism in Indonesia Buddhism in Indonesia is thought to have arrived with the Indian Buddhists who later began preaching on the land. Buddhists dynasties then flourished between the 8th and 10th Century, and they built the famous temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. In the 1290s, the Hindu Majapahit kingdom asserted its power over the island of Java and later united most of modern-day Malaysia and Indonesia. The Majapahit kingdom flourished under the Prime ministership of Gajah Mada and continued to increase its territories with time. However, this kingdom’s main focus was on the trade route control and not control over land.
Influence of Islam Islam found its way into the land of Indonesia through the sea route when traders and merchants started to arrive from the now Middle-east. They propagated the Islam culture, which later spread throughout the empire except for Bali, which remained a Hindu majority empire. Ultimately, this Islam expansion led to the downfall of the Majapahit kingdom. Islamic kingdoms ruled over the land till the 1500s until the Portuguese overthrew it.
The Portuguese made land Indonesia in search of spices, and with this, they began to spread Christianity among the ones living on the island. The fall of the Malay Peninsula was perhaps the only significant event which happened during the Portuguese invasion. The more affluent Dutch explorers then overpowered them.
The Dutch entered Indonesia in search of valuable spices which they planned to sell in the European market with profits. They established the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1602 to further their trade in an organised manner. This led to the birth of the Dutch East Indies; where the Dutch maintained their control over the island and its people. The Dutch began to crush the rebellion and began to force the natives to cultivate crops, which suited only the European market so that they could profit in massive amounts. They also introduced various laws and policies like the educational policy, which later proved to be an obstacle for them in the form of self-conscious Nationalist movements.
Indonesian Nationalist Movements
Indonesian nationalism began in the 20th Century with the formation of many political parties which vowed to make every effort required to make Indonesia a free country. ‘Sarekat Islam’ was one of the first mass movements in the country towards the cause, and later in 1927, the Partai Nasional Indonesia (PNI) was established with Sukarno as the leader.
The attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii by Japan shocked the entire world, and with this, the Japanese forces marched forward to annex the South Asian countries. During the Second World War, with national unrest, the Japanese made land in Indonesia and made promises to fulfil the needs of the people. They also vowed to work in harmony with the nationalists of the country. However, the people soon found the Japanese to be harsh and oppressive, and this soon stirred the nationalist sentiment back into the minds of the people. After the Japanese forces left the land, the Dutch tried to make a comeback, but their efforts were foiled by the constraints of international organisations like the United Nations.
The Republic of Indonesia was first formed on August 17, 1950, with Sukarno as the President. President Sukarno soon dissolved the existing parliament and enacted laws which only the President agreed to. The military forces and the communist party were the two most substantial organisations in the country under his rule. Eventually, the country collapsed into a state of deep unrest with the clash between President Sukarno and Vice-president Hatta. Today, Indonesia is a politically stable country and welcomes its guests with smiles and enthusiasm.