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When you read Indonesian history, you read world history. This country is a subtle blending of every culture that ever invaded it: Chinese, Indian, Melanesian, Portuguese, Polynesian, Arabian, English, Dutch, American, wave after wafe of peoples who either absorbed earlier arrivals, killed them off, or pushed them into more remote regions. The ongoing and unending process explains Indonesia's ethnic diversity.
There have been many periods of turmoil in Indonesia. It has just been in the past few years that any stability has come to the country.
- Early to 1500 : the Old Kingdoms and the coming of Islam
- 1500 to 1670: Great Kings and Trade Empires
- 1670 to 1800: Court Intrigues and the Dutch
- 1800 to 1830: Chaos and Resistance
- 1830 to 1910: Imperialism and Modernisation
- 1910 to 1940: New Nationalism
- 1940 to 1945: the Second World War
- 1945 to 1950: the War for Independence
- 1950 to 1965: the Sukarno years
- 1965 to 1998: Orde Baru: the Suharto years
- 1998 to 2001: Reformasi dan Persatuan Nasional
- 2001 to Today: Gotong Royong
Java was one of the earliest places in the world where man lived. In 1891 the fossil skull of Homo erectus was discovered at Trinil in Central Java. This erect near-man lived at a time when Europe was under ice and most of Indonesia was a part of Asia. This species ranged from Africa all the way north to the glacial border of Europe and east to China some 500,000 years ago at the very beginning of the Pleistocene epoch. Charcoal and charred bones indicate that he used fire.
This Homo erectus was not an ancestor of present-day Indonesians but a vanished race all its own. Either he could not adapt or was wiped out by more advanced incoming species. Excavations at Sangiran (Central Java) uncovered an even more primitive type of man.
In 1931 at Ngandong (near Trinil), 11 skullcaps were found. More advanced that Homo erectus, these were the so-called Solo Man. All 11 skullcaps had been deliberately cracked open: Solo Man was probably a brain-eating cannibal. Found with him was a rich fossil bed of 23,000 mamallian bones, mostly of extinct oxen, elephants, and hippos. Also uncovered were scrapers, borers, choppers, and stone balls used in slings.
Starting about 40,000 years ago, there has been human movement into and out of the archipelago. Early Australoids entered New Guinea and the Lesser Sunda Islands. Other groups expanded into the archipelago from southern China about 30,000 years ago.
Negritos, a pygmy people who began to radiate through the islands about this time, were some of the first known human migrants into Indonesia. There are still genetic traces of these short, woolly haired, round-headed people in Eastern Sumatra, the Lesser Sundas, and Irian Jaya.
More advanced than the Negritos were the two humans whose skulls were found at Wajak in Eastern Java. The true ancestor of present-day Indonesians, the Wajak Man is the earliest known Homo sapiens found on Java; he lived about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.
Indian chroniclers wrote of Java as early as 600 BC, and the ancient Hindu epic, the Ramayana, also mentions Indonesia. By the 2nd century AD. Indian traders had arrived in Celebes, Sumatra, and Java.
At the time of its colonializing efforts, India (then the pinnacle of civilization) was at the apex of its cultural vigor. Bronze Age Indonesians had many similar cultural traits that made the Indian culture easy to absorb. Indonesian feudal fulers most likely invited high-caste and learned Bramans to migrate and work as a literate bureaucracy.
Indian influences, including Hinduism, touched only the ruling classes; there was no significant impact on the rural people, who have always leaned more toward animism. By the 5th century, however, Indonesians were using South Indian script to carve Hindu inscriptions.
Sanskrit words found in the Iindonesian language today indicate the specific contributions Indians made during their period of influence in the archipelago, which laster 1400 years (200 to 1600 AD). Many legal practices were carried to Indonesia, as well as numerous titles, relating to social rank and regal pomp.
The Indians practices a more integrated religious system than Indonesians at the time, a heirarchy of gods with specific roles to play. By the 5th century, Brahmanist cults worshipping Shiva had sprung up on Java and temples were built to confirm the authority of Hindu religious beliefs.
By the 9th century, syncretism appeared on Java, a belief system that regarded both Shiva and Buddha as incarnations of the same being. In the 10th century, Indonesian students were sent to the great Buddhist university of Nalanda in northeast India, and Indonesians even went as far as Tibet for learning and philosophy.
Advent of Buddhism
Indian missionaries took Buddhism to Indonesia at a time when it was declining in Inda itself and as Indonesians were ready to go beyond the confines of their indigenous religions. Although adherents of Hinduism and Buddhism were hard and fast enemies in India, in Indonesia most folowers of these two religions lived side by side in peace, blending with and borrowing from one another.
On the fertile ground of Southeast Asia, Mahayana Buddhism evolved into a new kind of polytheism. Sumatra remained primarily Buddhist, but Hinduism eventually took over on Java, although the world's largest Buddhist monument, the imposing Borobudur stupa, was built in the 9th century by Buddhist Sallendras in Central Java.
The Majapahit Empire
The Indonesian-Indian era reached its apogee in the 14th century East javanese Majapahit Empire, the Golden Age of Indonesian history. Although it thrived for barely 100 years (1294 to 1398 AD), Majapahit was Indonesia's greatest state and it role was not really eclipsed until 1527 AD.
Even though Islam ostensibly erased Indian cultural traditions from Java by the 16th century, much is still visible from Buddhist-Hindu times. Bopatiwas the term used by the old Hindu aristocracy for a governor of a province, and the Indonesian bupati holds this power to this day.
Arabs started arrving in Indonesia as far back as the 4th century to take part in the trade between the great civilizations of the Mediterranean, India, Southeast Asia, and China. In the 14th century the Mohammedans consolidated their hold on Gujerat in India and began to expand their trade considerably in Indonesia. This was the beginning of the Islamic period in the archipelago.
Islam caught on in far northern Sumatra first, then spread to Java. The capture of Melaka by the Portuguese in 1511 scattered Muslim perchants and their faith all over insular Southeast Asia. Islam took hold most solidly in those areas of Indonesia that had been least affected by the earlier Hindu civilizaitons, i.e., the northcentral Java coast, Banten in Western java, and the Aceh and Minangkabau regions of Sumatra. In 1478, a coalition of Muslim princes attacked what was left of the Hindu Majapahit Empire, and Islam was established in Indonesia.
The Portuguese Period
The Portuguese were the first bearers of European civilization to Indonesia. Carrying their religion with them to be embraced by the heathens, these vigorous and bold traders arrived in Indonesia 87 years before the Dutch. The Portuguese period lasted only about 150 years, from about 1512. Portuguese was the lingua franca of the archipelago in the 16th century and initially even Dutch merchants had to learn the language.
Portuguese involvement was largely commercial and did not involve territorial expansion. The period was of small significance economically and had little effect on the great intra-Asian trade route that stretched from Arabia to Nagasaki. However, for their small numers and brevity of their tenure, the Portuguese had a deep impact on Indonesia.
The English Period
Early in the 17th century, the English were direct rivals to the Dutch in the exploitation of the East Indies. Although treaties dictaed that the two great maritime powers were to peacefully cooperate, they were far from amicable partners. The underlying enmity erupted on Ambon in 1623 when all the personnel of the English factory were tortured and executed.
Almost 200 years later during the Napolenoic Wars, Java was occupied (1811 to 1816) by English forces and the sultan's kraton in Yogya was stored and subdued. However, because England wanted to prepare Holland against attach by France and Prussia, most of the Indies were handed back to the Dutch in 1816.
The Dutch Era
By the time European traders reached the East Indies in the early 16thcentury, the islands had government, cities, monumental temples, irrigation systems, handicrafts, orchestras, shipping, art, literature, and astronomy. It was Wurope that was undeveloped at this time, not Asia.
The Dutch started their involvement here as only a trading company, first entering Indonesia at Banten in 1596 with just four ships. When these ships returned safely to Holland with their valuable cargos and spices, it touched off wild speculation.
The Dutch did everything they could to isolate the islands from all outside contact. They gained their first foothold in Batavia in the early 17th century. Within 10 years, they were sinking all vessels they found in Indonesian waters. By the mid-17th century, the Dutch found themselves the new masters of huge amounts of territory. Using a combination of arms, treaties, and treachery, they became increasingly more involved in the internal affairs of Indonesian states. The hangover of the 300-year Dutch presence remains with the Indonesian people today.
Intellectuals and aristocrats were the earliest nationalists. The peasants have always accepted authority in Indonesian history, no matter the source. Diponegoro, the eldest son of a javanese sultan, was the country's first nationalist leader. In 1825, ater the Dutch had build a road across his estate and committed various other abuses, he embarked on a holy war against them. The man was a masterful guerrilla tactician, and both sides waged a costly war of attrition and scorched-earth policy. Over 15,000 Dutchmen and 150,000 Indonesians died before Diponegoro was treacherously lured into negotiations and arrested.
In World War II, the Netherlands East Indies were left wide open for attack. In January 1942 Japanese troops landed on Celebes and Borneo. By February the Japanese launched a full-scale invasion of Sumatra. During their occupation, the japanese encouraged Indonesian nationalism and allowed political boards to form.
Eleven days after Hiroshima, on 17 August 1945, independence was declared in Jakarta and the Republic of Indonesia was born.