Indonesia History - History

Indonesia History - History

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The region once known as the East Indies was home to several Hindu and Islamic kingdoms long before Europeans arrived in the 16th century. A century later, the Dutch East India Company was largely in control, although in 1799, its bankruptcy forced the Dutch government to establish direct rule, The Dutch managed to maintain their hold on the East Indies, even in the face of growing nationalism and anticolonial uprisings. Though the Japanese captured the islands during World War II -- and some viewed them as liberators -- the nationalists prevailed and in 1945, declared Indonesia's independence under Sukarno. Indonesia took its place as a leader of the nonaligned nations of the Third World. Under Sukarno, Indonesia moved left (looking towards China) but when the army crushed an attempted coup in 1965, the ensuing turmoil resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, killed as suspected communists. Sukarno was pushed out and General Suharto took power. Suharto moved Indonesia's foreign policy posture back towards the West. Indonesia's annexation of the former Portuguese colony of East Timor in 1976 has led to international disapproval and the deaths of perhaps 100,000 or more East Timorese. Suharto remained in power until 1998 when charges of corruption were leveled against the leader and his family. Coupled with the ongoing crisis in East Timor, the Indonesians had had enough. Their rioting, strikes, and protests led to Suharto's ouster. In 1999, East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia which led to renewed militia attacks. The UN sent peacekeeping troops in to quell the violence.



The first people in Indonesia arrived about 40,000 years ago when sea level was lower and it was joined to Asia by a land bridge. Then at the end of the last ice age about 10,000 BC, a new wave of people came. At first, they hunted animals, collected shellfish, and gathered plants for food. By about 2,500 BC they learned to grow crops such as taro, bananas, millet, and rice. The early farmers also made pottery but all their tools were made of stone.

However, by 700 BC the Indonesians had learned to make bronze and iron. Furthermore, at that time wet rice cultivation was introduced. Indonesian villages were forced to co-operate to regulate the supply of water to their fields. In time organized kingdoms emerged. n From about 400 BC

Indonesians traded with other nations such as China and India. Hinduism and Buddhism were also introduced to Indonesia and they took route.

By the 8th century AD, Indonesian civilization was flourishing. Among the kingdoms was a Hindu kingdom in central Java called Sailandra.

There was also the great Buddhist kingdom of Sriwijaya in south Sumatra. From the 7th century to the 13th century Sriwijaya prospered and it became a maritime empire controlling western Java and part of the Malay Peninsula. It was also a centre of Buddhist learning. However, in the 13th century, the Sriwijaya Empire broke up into separate states.

During the 17th century, the Dutch gradually extended their power of Java and the Moluccas. However, they had little influence in the rest of Indonesia. Moreover, during the 18th century, the Dutch East India Company slipped into debt. Finally, in 1799 the Dutch government took over its territories.

In 1806 the British and Dutch went to war. In 1811 the British under Lord Minto sailed to Batavia. The British soon captured all the Dutch possessions in Indonesia. The British abolished slavery and they also divided the country into areas called residencies for administration. However in 1816, the British handed Indonesia back to the Dutch. Many Indonesians resisted the return of the Dutch. However the Dutch eventually defeated them and regained control.

However, in 1825 the Javanese War, in central Java, began. It was led by Prince Diponegoro. However, the war ended with a Dutch victory in 1830. Diponegoro went into exile and died in 1855.

Furthermore during the 19th century, the Dutch extended their control over other parts of Indonesia. In 1825 they took Pelambang in Sumatra. They also fought wars with the Balinese in 1848, 1849, 1858, and 1868. However, Bali was not finally conquered until 1906.

In 1873 the Dutch went to war with Aceh. The war went on until 1908. Meanwhile, in 1894 the Dutch captured Lombok and in 1905 they captured the whole of Sulawesi.

Meanwhile the Dutch shamelessly exploited the Indonesians. In 1830 the Dutch introduced the cultural system. Indonesian farmers were forced to put aside 20% of their land to grow crops for export. They were paid only a nominal sum by the Dutch government for them. Indonesians were forced to grow coffee, indigo, tea, pepper, cinnamon, and sugar. As a result of this measure, rice production was reduced.

However in 1870 the Dutch switched to a free market system. The Dutch government’s monopoly on sugar and other commodities was ended. Private plantations were created. However, the Indonesians were not necessarily better off. Now they were employed as coolies on the great plantations.

In the early 20th century the Dutch decided to treat the Indonesians more fairly. They introduced what they called the ethical policy. This meant building schools and spending money on health care, sanitation, and irrigation.

However, the new policy had little effect on the lives of most Indonesians. It did, however, mean that a least some Indonesians became highly educated and familiar with western ideas such as liberalism and socialism. As a result in the early 20th century, nationalist movements were formed in Indonesia. They began clamoring for independence.

Then in 1940, the Germans occupied Holland. In 1942 the Japanese invaded Indonesia. The last Dutch troops surrendered on 8 March 1942. At first, the Indonesians welcomed the Japanese as liberators. However, they soon grew disillusioned. The Japanese were brutal and they ruthlessly exploited Indonesia’s resources.

Yet when the Japanese were losing the war they started to favour Indonesian independence, hoping to make the Indonesians their allies. Japan surrendered on 15 August 1945. Young Indonesian nationalists were determined to assert the countries independence before the Dutch could return. A group of them kidnapped two nationalist leaders Sukarno and Hatta. On 17 August Sukarno declared Indonesian independence. He became the first president and Hatta became vice-president.

However the Dutch were not willing to let Indonesia go so easily. At first British troops landed in Indonesia. They tried to remain neutral although there were armed clashes between the British and Indonesians in places.

However by November 1946, the British were gone and the Dutch had landed many men in Indonesia. In November the Indonesians and Dutch signed the Linggadjati agreement. The Dutch recognized the new republic, but only in Java and Sumatra. They still claimed the rest of Indonesia. Furthermore, the agreement stated that the republic would join a federal union with Holland in 1949.

Not surprisingly neither side were happy with the agreement. The Dutch built up their strength in an attempt to retake all of Indonesia. In the summer of 1947, they invaded the independent areas. However, they were forced to withdraw, partly because of Indonesian resistance and partly because of strong international condemnation (especially by the USA).

In December 1948 the Dutch tried to retake Indonesia. This time the Indonesians turned to guerrilla warfare and they were successful. The Dutch faced strong condemnation from powers like the USA and they realized they could not win the war. Finally, on 2 November 1949, the Dutch agreed to recognize Indonesian independence. Their troops withdrew in December 1949.

At first independent Indonesia was a parliamentary democracy. However, in February 1957 President Sukarno introduced a new political system, which he called ‘Guided Democracy’. The power of parliament was reduced and his own power was greatly increased. His opponents formed a separate ‘parliament’ called the PRRC (the Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Indonesia).

However, the army remained loyal to Sukarno and he stayed in power. Meanwhile, in October 1957 the army took over the remaining Dutch companies in Indonesia. As a result, the army grew wealthy.

Then in the early 1960s, the economy faltered. There was very rapid inflation. In September 1965 the Communists attempted a coup in Indonesia. They murdered a number of generals. They also seized strategic points in Jakarta. However, General Suharto quickly took action. The coup was crushed. Suharto was granted powers by President Sukarno to restore order. After the coup, Suharto arrested and executed a large number of communists.

However Sukarno lost support and on 11 March 1966, he signed over his presidential powers to Suharto. From 1966 Suharto ruled as a dictator (although there were elections held every five years democracy was a facade). However, Suharto brought stability and under him, the economy of Indonesia recovered.

From the 1960s reserves of oil in Indonesia were exploited. After 1973 Indonesians benefited from the high price of oil. Agriculture also became far more productive.

However many Indonesians remained poor and in 1997 Indonesia was hit by a financial crisis. As a result, the economy contracted. Indonesia was hit by riots and Suharto resigned in May 1998. Democracy returned to Indonesia with elections, which were held in 1999.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the Indonesian economy began to recover. Today the economy of Indonesia is growing steadily. In 2020 the population of Indonesia was 267 million.


___ History of Indonesia

Prehistory: Archaeological evidence indicates that ancestors of modern humans occupied sites in Central and East Java as early as 1.9 million years ago presumably, these hominids were widely distributed in other areas. Fossils were found in 2003 of a tiny species of ancient hominid (homo floresiensis) that lived up until at least 18,000 years ago on the island of Flores in the Lesser Sunda Islands. There is evidence of modern humans as early as about 40,000 years ago, but they may have been present much earlier. By about 5,000 years ago, the circulation of peoples within the archipelago and the absorption of influences from outside had begun to create a diverse but related complex of cultures often identified as Austronesian. What is today Indonesia lay at or near the center of this complex, which eventually spread east throughout the Pacific, and west as far as Madagascar.

Early History: Although Indonesian peoples clearly had contact with the outside world at an early date (cloves, found only in Maluku, had made their way to the Middle East as early as 4,000 years ago), physical evidence in the archipelago is much later. Sites containing Indian trade goods now date at about 400 B.C., and the first inscriptions (in eastern Kalimantan and West Java) at about 375–400 B.C. The first formal kingdoms of which we have extensive knowledge are Srivijaya (flourished c. A.D. 550–c. 1050), a Buddhist trading polity whose power was centered in the region of present-day Palembang and reached to coastal areas on the Malaysian peninsula and elsewhere, and Mataram, in Central Java, where magnificent Buddhist and Hindu monuments such as Borobudur and Prambanan were constructed in the eighth and ninth centuries. The greatest of the subsequent Hindu-Buddhist states, the empire of Majapahit centered in East Java, claimed hegemony from the late thirteenth to early sixteenth centuries over a wide trading region stretching from Sumatra to Maluku.

Islam entered the archipelago in about the eleventh century, but significant conversions did not take place for two centuries or more, beginning with Pasai (North Sumatra) at the turn of the fourteenth century and going on to Makasar and Central Java in the seventeenth century. Contacts from China deepened between the tenth and fourteenth centuries as a result of growing trade, but Mongol attempts to control Javanese power (in the late thirteenth century) failed, and early Ming dynasty (1368–1644) efforts to exercise great political and economic influence were fleeting. It was at this time also that Western visitors began appearing, starting with Marco Polo in the late thirteenth century and continuing with the Portuguese and Spanish in the sixteenth century. They were soon followed by the Dutch (1596) and the English (1601). Europeans affected trade and politics in specific places and periods, but for most of the archipelago beyond Java and parts of Maluku, colonial rule did not set in until the mid- or late nineteenth century.

Colonial Period: Dutch power in the archipelago grew very gradually, and colonial rule was not a goal of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), which dominated trade from Amsterdam and, after the early seventeenth century, a fortified port called Batavia (now Jakarta) in West Java. But on Java local realities produced, by the mid-eighteenth century, a symbiotic Dutch-Javan relationship that survived the bankruptcy of the VOC in 1799 and soon took the shape of a colonial administration, which grew and consolidated during the late 1800s. In the first decades of the twentieth century, a modern Dutch colonial state extended its control to most of the area we now call Indonesia. Simultaneously, some of the peoples ruled by this state discovered nationalism the first groups date from the early 1900s, and by the 1920s and 1930s an array of modern political organizations and leaders, including the well-known nationalist figure Sukarno (1901–70), came to the fore. The struggle between the Dutch colonial government and the Indonesian nationalist movement was well under way when the Japanese occupied the Indies in 1942. They remained until the end of World War II in August 1945.

An early 18th century Dutch map from a time when only the north coastal ports of Java were well known to the Dutch.

Independence Period: On August 17, 1945, Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta proclaimed the independent Republic of Indonesia with Sukarno as president and Hatta as vice president. Allied forces (mostly British and British Indian troops) did not arrive until six weeks later, by which time the republic had begun to establish itself and nationalist pride had burgeoned. The period October-December 1945 was filled with violent conflict in which Indonesians made it clear they would defend their independence with their lifeblood. Forcing the Dutch to negotiate with the republic for an end to hostilities, the British withdrew in late 1946. The republic subsequently survived two Dutch “police actions” and an internal communist rebellion, and on December 27, 1949, The Hague formally recognized the sovereignty of a federated Republic of the United States of Indonesia, which a year later was formed into a unitary Republic of Indonesia.

Despite the holding of democratic elections in 1955, the years following the struggle for independence were characterized by political and economic difficulty: regional dissidence, attempted assassinations and coups d’état, military-civilian conflict, and economic stagnation. A period of Guided Democracy was announced in 1959 by Sukarno, who in September 1963 proclaimed himself president-for-life and presided over a political system in which the civilian nationalist leadership, much of the Islamic leadership, the large Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), and the army were all at odds. This tense and hostile atmosphere was broken on September 30, 1965, with what appears to have been an attempted PKI coup against the Sukarno government. The precise circumstances remain unclear, but the immediate result was that a “New Order” coalition of students, intellectuals, Muslims, and the army brought about a military-dominated government that removed Sukarno and permitted a broad and deadly assault on communists, especially on Java, Bali, and Sumatra. In late 1965 and early 1966, an estimated 500,000 Indonesian communists and suspected communists were killed and many more arrested.

General Suharto was the second President of Indonesia, holding the office from 1967 to 1998.
On March 11, 1966, power was transferred from a seriously ill Sukarno to a high-ranking army officer, Suharto the PKI was formally banned the following day. Suharto became the acting president on March 12, 1967, and the New Order era began.

The New Order era, which lasted for more than 30 years, has a mixed record. Like Guided Democracy, it was authoritarian, but it was more successful in bringing stability to the nation. Unlike Guided Democracy, its economic achievements were enormous and the well-being of the majority of Indonesians undeniably improved. Average life expectancy, for example, increased from 46 to 65.5 years. On the other hand, the state’s heavy involvement in banking and industry, especially the petroleum and natural gas sectors, worked against competition and encouraged corruption on a large scale. Heavy-handed political control and propagandizing of a national ideology may have aided stability, but also did not prepare the nation for a modern political existence. A modernizing, educated, and better-off middle class grew, but gained little or no political clout poverty was reduced, but some particularly severe pockets appeared to be intractable. Suharto provided strong leadership, but he did not provide for a wise transition and, in his last years, clung to power and favored family and friends. East Timor, which had been forcibly annexed to Indonesia in 1976, saw bitter conflict between the Indonesian military and local independence movements. When the Asian financial crisis hit in 1997–98, the New Order lost the economic justification that had guaranteed much of its public support, and there was a widespread call for Suharto to step down. He resigned on May 21, 1998, little more than two months after being selected for his seventh term as president.

Suharto was succeeded by Bucharuddin Jusuf Habibie, who sought first to resolve the East Timor situation and begin a new and more open electoral process. In 1999, following Indonesia’s first freely contested parliamentary elections since 1955, Abdurrahman Wahid, well-known as both a progressive intellectual and as leader of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization (Nahdlatul Ulama, NU) became president. His quirky and often uncompromising leadership style, and questions about both his competency and his health, brought him increasing opposition and eventually serious threats of impeachment. He was dismissed from office in July 2001 in favor of Megawati Sukarnoputri, his vice president and head of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). Megawati, Sukarno’s eldest daughter, was decisively defeated in the September 2004 presidential runoff election by the Democratic Party candidate, retired army general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Yudhoyono was sworn in as president in October 2004.

Indonesia in Figures
Indonesia key statistical data.

External Links:
Indonesian History
Overview of the political history of Indonesia.

Summary of Early Indonesian History
Indonesian and West Papua (Irian Jaya) history.


Historians believe that Indonesia was linked with the Asian mainland during the Pleistocene period (four million BC). This period was also related to the first appearance of the Hominids what is today called ‘Java Man’ inhabited Indonesia as early as two million to 500,000 years ago. ‘Java Man’ is a short name for Pithecanthropus Erectus , a human-like species whose fossilized remains were discovered by the scientist Eugene Dubois on the island of Java.

Buddhist and Hindu Kingdoms

Much later, Indonesia developed many well-organized kingdoms. Ruled by indigenous Rajas who embraced the Hindu and Buddhist religions, these kingdoms grew very civilized. Today, this time in history is called the period of Buddhist-Hindu Kingdoms. It lasted from ancient history to the 15th century

The first Buddhists arrived in Indonesia from around 100 to 200 AD from India. One of the most famous Buddhist kingdoms in Indonesian history is Sailendra (750-850 AD). During this period, the famous Buddhist temple at Borobudur was built. The dynasty’s replacement, the Hindu kingdom of Mataram began the era of Hindu kingdoms. The mightiest Hindu kingdom in Indonesia’s ancient history was the Majapahit Empire. Under the reign of King Hayam Wuruk (1331-1364 AD), the empire enjoyed tributary relationships with territories as far away as Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines.

Islam Arrives

Gujarati and Persian merchants who embraced Islam started to visit Indonesia in the 13th century. Along with trade, they introduced Islam to the Indonesian Hindus, particularly in the coastal areas of Java. Islam then spread further east to the Bone and Goa Sultanates in Sulawesi, Ternate and Tidore in the northern part of Maluku, and the east part of Lombok. Besides those areas, Islam also expanded to into Banjarmasin, Palembang, Minangkabau, Pasai, and Perlak.

European Period

European influence in Indonesia began when the Portuguese, in search for spices, landed in 1512. Both the Portuguese and the Spanish spread Christianity in Indonesia. Meanwhile, the Dutch established an organized merchant trade called Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1602 to tap the rich spices territories. After the seizure of Ambon in Maluku (1605) and Banda Island (1623), the Dutch enjoyed a trade monopoly in the “Spice Islands.”

In 1814 the British came to Indonesia. During the Napoleonic wars in Europe, when Holland was occupied by France, Indonesia fell under the rule of the British East India Company. After the fall of Napoleon, the British and Dutch signed a convention in which it was agreed that Dutch colonial possession dating from 1803 onwards should be returned to the Dutch administration in Batavia (present-day Jakarta). Thus, the Indonesian archipelago once again became a Dutch possession in 1815.

Throughout the period of colonization, Indonesians had been fighting for their independence. This struggle, begun in the 1600s, climaxed with a proclamation of independence in 1945, and continued for a few years more.


When World War II broke out, the Japanese occupied the Dutch East Indies after the surrender of the Dutch colonial army in March 1942. Three years later, on August 14, 1945, the Japanese surrendered to the Allied Forces. To Indonesia’s leaders, the power vacuum in Jakarta looked like an open window of opportunity to proclaim their independence. On 17 August 1945, Indonesian national leaders Soekarno and Dr. Mohamad Hatta proclaimed Indonesia’s independence on behalf of the Indonesian people. The proclamation took place at Jalan Pengangsaan Timur No.56, Jakarta, and was heard by thousands of Indonesians nationwide through a secret radio broadcast from a captured Japanese radio station, Jakarta Hoso Kyoku. An English translation of the proclamation was broadcast overseas soon afterwards.


The history of Indonesia can be marked as the dawn of mankind since it is where the remains of the early man were unearthed. During the ancient age of kingdoms and empires, Indonesia saw the rise of the great empires that ruled over almost all of South-East Asia and regarded to play a key role in the history of the region. After gaining independence from foreign colonization and the wave of both World Wars, Indonesia emerged as one united country and continued to thrive amongst the top nations of the world to this very day.

When was the dawn of mankind in Indonesia?

Fossilized remains of Homo erectus and his tools, popularly known as the "Java Man" found in the archaeological site of Sangiran in Central Java, suggested that the Indonesian archipelago was already inhabited by “the early man” at least since 1.5 million years ago. Recently, the fossil of Homo floresiensis or nicknamed as ‘hobbit man’ was discovered in Liang Bua, Flores Island and also believed to be one of the ancestors of modern humans.

What happened during the age of Kings and Sultans?

Chinese chronicles mention that trade between India, China and the islands within what today is the Indonesian Archipelago was already thriving since the first century AD. The powerful maritime empire of Srivijaya in southern Sumatra that ruled over the Sumatra seas and the Malacca Straits from the 7th to the 13th century was the centre for Buddhism learning and famous for its wealth. In the 8th- 9th century, the Sailendra Dynasty of the Mataram kingdom in Central Java built the magnificent Buddhist Borobudur temple in Central Java and followed by the construction of the Hindu Temple Prambanan.

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, especially following the arrival of Islam in the 13th Century.

What was the Colonial Era like?

Following the arrival of Marco polo in Sumatra, successive waves of Europeans—the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and British—sought to dominate the spice trade at its sources which is at the Moluccas or Maluku Islands of Indonesia began in the 16th century. In 1596 the first Dutch vessels anchored at the shores of West Java. Over the next three centuries, the Dutch gradually colonized this archipelago until it became known as the Dutch East Indies.

The Emergence of Indonesia and the Declaration of Independence

Revolt against the oppressing 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 the 17th of 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.

History of Indonesian

Indonesian is a 20th century name for Malay. Depending on how you define a language and how you count its number of speakers, today Malay-Indonesian ranks around sixth or seventh in size among the world’s languages. With dialect variations it is spoken by more than 200 million people in the modern states of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. It is also an important vernacular in the southern provinces of Thailand, in East Timor and among the Malay people of Australia’s Cocos Keeling Islands in the Indian Ocean. It is understood in parts of the Sulu area of the southern Philippines and traces of it are to be found among people of Malay descent in Sri Lanka, South Africa and other places.

Malay is just one of many scores, perhaps hundreds, of different languages in the area now occupied by the Republic of Indonesia. In 1928 the Indonesian nationalist movement chose it as the future nation’s national language. Its name was changed to Bahasa Indonesia, literally: “the language (bahasa) of Indonesia”. In English we call the language “Indonesian”: it is not correct to call it simply “Bahasa”.

Indonesian is not related, even remotely, to English. Nor is it related to the inland languages of New Guinea, the Aboriginal languages of Australia or the Sino-Tibetan languages of China and continental Southeast Asia. Indonesian belongs to the Austronesian language family which extends across the islands of Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Other languages in this family include Malagasy (spoken on Madagascar off the coast of Africa), Javanese (famous for its extraordinarily elaborate system of honorific speech levels), Balinese (the language of the beautiful Hindu island of Bali), Tagalog or Filipino (the national language of the Philippines), and Maori (the language of the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand). Some Indonesian words have been borrowed into English, among them the common words gong, orangoutang and sarong, and the less common words paddy, sago and kapok. The phrase “to run amock” comes from the Indonesian verb amuk (to run out of control killing people indiscriminately).

Unlike Chinese, Indonesian is not a tonal language. As far as pronunciation goes, Indonesian, though far from easy, is relatively straightforward for English speakers. It is sometimes described as “agglutinative”, meaning that it has a complex range of prefixes and suffixes which are attached to base words just as, for example, the English word “uncomfortable” is built up from the base word “comfort”. The core vocabulary of Indonesian is Austronesian, but the language has also borrowed innumerable commonly used words from Sanskrit, Arabic, Dutch, English and local languages, especially from Javanese and Jakartan Malay.

The History of Indonesian

From earliest recorded times Malay was, and still is, the native tongue of the people who live on both sides of the Straits of Malacca that separate Sumatra from the Malay Peninsula. Because the Straits have always been a busy sea thoroughfare, countless travellers and traders came into contact with its language. Over the centuries they bore Malay throughout the islands of Indonesia and the language became a widely used lingua franca, especially in coastal areas. This is one of the main reasons why, in the 20th. century, Malay was chosen as the national language of the Indonesian republic and why it has played such an important role in forging Indonesia’s unity.

Malay has also functioned as a court language. It was evidently the language of the Sumatran empire of Sriwijaya (9th to 14th centuries). It was also the language of the greatest of all medieval Malay states, Malacca. When Malacca was subjugated by the Portuguese in 1511, its traditions were scattered far and wide and inspired the court culture of smaller successor states like Johor-Riau, Kelantan and Aceh. So modern Indonesian, too, basks in the glow of prestige which adheres to the language from centuries of use in indigenous administration and court arts.

Malay has always been a language of trade and business. The medieval city-state of Malacca, like the renaissance European city-states of Genoa and Venice, and the modern city-states of Hong Kong and Singapore, thrived on trade. The Malay language came to be used for commerce throughout the Indonesian archipelago, so much so that a special, “boiled-down” variant of the language developed which became known as market Malay or bazaar Malay (BahasaMelayu Pasar). Thanks to this tradition, Malay seems to have adapted vigorously to the challenges of modern commerce. In modern Indonesia, the Indonesian language is easily the dominant language of business, especially at the middle and upper levels (local languages dominate in the rural market economy).

When Islam came to the Indonesian region it spread along trade routes and through coastal trading cities where Malay was used. Malay became linked with Islam and played a crucial role in the rise of Islam as the majority faith in the archipelago. Malay was also the language most widely used in the propagation of Christianity, especially in the now largely Christianised areas of East Indonesia. In other words, Islam and Christianity helped spread Malay, and Malay helped spread Islam and Christianity. Established religion has an important place in the Republic of Indonesia – there is even a powerful Department of Religion in the central government. Today the Indonesian language is associated with the “modern” religions of Islam and Christianity, and participates in their social prestige and spiritual power.

From the 17th century on, as the islands of Indonesia fell little by little under the control of the Netherlands, Malay came to be used by the European rulers as the most important medium of communication between government and people. Unlike in many other colonies, in Indonesia the language of the European rulers was not forced upon the local populace. Only a small elite of indigenous Indonesians ever learned the Dutch language, and consequently Malay, although still very much a minority language in the Indies, was crucial to the smooth administration of the colony. When the Japanese invaded the Netherlands East Indies in 1942 one of their first measures was to prohibit use of the Dutch language. Since very few Indonesians knew Japanese, Malay (now called Indonesian) had to be used in administration even more widely and intensively than it had been under the Dutch. With this track record of use in modern administration Indonesian easily and naturally assumed the mantle of official language and language of government under the Republic. Today all government business: legislation, administration, justice, defense, education, national development and so on is conducted wholly in Indonesian.

A good deal of the modern prestige of Indonesian comes from its role in the country’s nationalist movement. But in the early years of the century Malay was not an obvious or unanimous choice as the language of indigenous cultural and political revival in the then Netherlands East Indies. At first, nationalism was as much expressed through Dutch, or through the languages of Indonesia’s local cultures, as it was through Malay. It was only with the famous Young People’s Vow (Sumpah Pemuda) formulated at the Congress of Young People in 1928 that the very name “Indonesian” was formally adopted and the language declared the pre-eminent language of Indonesia as well as the language of national unity. When the Indonesian nationalists emerged from the shadow of the Japanese occupation in 1945 to declare an independent republic, the Proclamation of Independence was uttered in Indonesian. Both the state philosophy of Pancasila and the Constitution were framed in Indonesian. The subsequent victory of the Republic in the Revolution (1945-1949) consolidated the prestige of the language and gave its development unstoppable momentum.

The Functions of Indonesian Today

Indonesians are overwhelmingly bilingual, indeed many people have a good command of three of four languages. In infancy most people learn at least one of the country’s many local languages and later learn Indonesian at school or in the streets of cities or from television and radio. It is not clear how many people learn Indonesian in infancy as their very first language, but at the dawn of the 21st. century it cannot be less than 20% of the country’s population, and this percentage is steadily rising. Indonesian tends to be most used in the modern environment of major urban areas. The local languages tend to dominate in rural areas and small towns, and are most used in homes, fields and markets.

Indonesian is the medium of instruction in educational institutions at all levels throughout the country. In the early years of the Republic, local languages continued to be used in some places as the medium of instruction in the first years of primary school but this practice has now almost entirely disappeared. In schools and universities most textbooks are in Indonesian, but at the tertiary level, especially in highly specialised courses and at the advanced level of study, textbooks in English are also widely used.

Although there are several newspapers in English and Chinese, their circulation is relatively small and Indonesian is by far the dominant language in the country’s print media. Indonesia’s domestic Palapa satellite system brings television to almost every corner of the country. With the exception of some newscasts in English and a small number of cultural programs in regional languages, domestic programs are entirely in Indonesian, and almost all programs of foreign origin are dubbed into Indonesian or have Indonesian-language sub-titles. Similarly Indonesian dominates in the very diverse and vibrant domain of radio broadcasting, although there are a small number of specialist programs in English and in some local languages.

In politics, administration and the judiciary Indonesian is the sole official language. It is the language of legislation, political campaigning, national and local government, court proceedings and the military. In some instances, judges may refer to old statutes and court records in Dutch to help them reach their decisions. In some rural areas of the country, for example in the hinterland of Java and in the mountains of West Papua, local languages may also play a role in administration and in the propagation of government policies.

Indonesia hosts a sparkling variety of traditional verbal arts (poetry, historical narratives, romances, drama etc.) which are expressed in local languages, but modern genres are expressed mainly through Indonesian. Modern literature (novels, short stories, stage plays, free-form poetry etc.) has developed since the late years of the 19th. century and has produced such internationally recognised figures as novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer, dramatist W.S. Rendra, poet Chairil Anwar and cinematographer Garin Nugroho. Indonesian is also the language of the nation’s breezy, inventive popular arts: TV melodrama and comedy, pop novels, popular songs, cartoons and comics.

Indonesian also dominates as the language of modern business. Needless to say, in enterprises that involve expatriate staff or international transactions English, Japanese, Chinese and other foreign languages are widely used, often side-by-side with Indonesian. At the grass-roots level, in the country’s many thousands of village markets, Indonesian has only a marginal role to play and the local languages still prevail.

Given the extraordinary diversity of Indonesia it is not easy to see, even more than half a century after Independence, what Indonesians have in common – what defines Indonesia as a nation. Perhaps more than anything the country’s unity and identity come from its national language. Nevertheless the emergence of separatist movements after the fall of President Soeharto in 1998 reminds us that the nationalist effort to forge a sense of unity and common identity is still unfinished and that the Indonesian language can also be a language of separatist activism, as it has been in areas as disparate as East Timor, Aceh and West Papua.

The Standard Language and Variation

Indonesian is a very diverse language, but it has a broadly acknowledged standard form that is used in formal discourse from one end of the country to the other. This standard form owes its origins mainly to the Balai Pustaka publishing house set up by the colonial rulers of the East Indies in 1917. Balai Pustaka’s titles were (and still are) widely used in schools. In editing the language of its books and magazines the Dutch and Indonesian staff of Balai Pustaka gave priority to the formal, literary Malay of Central Sumatra rather than the very varied and salty language of streets, markets and popular publications across the whole length and breadth of the country.

During the Second World War the Japanese rulers of Indonesia set up a Language Commission (Komisi Bahasa) the purpose of which was to create new terms and to systematically develop Indonesian as a nation-wide language of administration and modern technology. After independence the Language Commission went through several incarnations culminating in the establishment in 1975 of the Centre for Language Development (Pusat Pembinaan dan Pengembangan Bahasa usually shortened to Pusat Bahasa) under the Government’s Department of National Education. The Centre for Language Development continues to undertake research on Indonesian, creating new terms and providing support for the standardisation and propagation of the language. Among its initiatives have been the publication of a standard grammar Tata Bahasa Baku Bahasa Indonesia (A Standard Grammar of Indonesian, 1988) and a standard dictionary, the Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia (A Comprehensive Dictionary of Indonesian, 1988). It has encouraged people to use an officially endorsed style of formal Indonesian promoted under the slogan Gunakan Bahasa Indonesia yang baik dan benar (Use good and correct Indonesian).

The way Indonesian is used by high-ranking officials and in government documents also provides models imitated throughout the country. The print media and television too are key sources of models. Indeed the nation’s “serious” newspapers and magazines like, for example, the dailies Kompas and Republika, and the weekly news magazines Tempo and Gatra have made a point of creating new terms and cultivating innovation in formal style.

Like all languages Indonesian displays dialect variation. The main dialect division is between the northern dialect (today called Malay or Malaysian) spoken in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, and the southern dialect spoken in Indonesia. The southern variant may in turn be divided into two broad dialect domains, the western and the eastern, each having slightly different patterns of stress and intonation and some differences in vocabulary. The western variant is spoken throughout Sumatra, Kalimantan, Java, Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa and most of Sulawesi. The eastern variant, often referred to roughly and popularly as Ambonese Malay, is spoken in the north of Sulawesi, the islands of Maluku, in Flores, Timor and in West Papua. Within both western and eastern dialect domains there are local dialects shaped by the influence of local languages. Among the easily identifiable smaller dialects are those of the Batak people of north Sumatra, the Minangkabau people of west Sumatra, the people of Jakarta, the Javanese, the Balinese and many more.

Indonesian also displays dramatic differences in register and style. As in all modern languages, there is a general contrast between formal and informal usage. Formal Indonesian is most used in writing, public speeches and in education. It is characterised by use of the full range of affixes and by a big, diverse vocabulary with a high incidence of esoteric terms from foreign or classical languages. Informal Indonesian is used in conversation and is characterised by the dropping of certain affixes, especially the prefix ber-, and the liberal borrowing of idioms from local languages. Informal usage merges into street slang or youth slang peppered with particles like dong, deh and sih, sarcastic or humorous abbreviations, deliberate ‘misunderstandings’ of words, and components borrowed from local languages, like the Jakartan verbal suffix –in and the Javanese first person agent pronoun tak. The Prokem slang of Jakarta, which started out as a secret language of street kids and toughs, has entered the trendy speech of young people throughout the country, giving everyday currency to words like bokap (father, a transformation of bapak ), doi (she/he, a transformation of dia ), and ogut (I/me, a transformation of gua ). In the speech of some people, code-switching is the norm with incessant jumping between Indonesian and a regional language, or (among the educated middle-class) between Indonesian and English.

Writing and Spelling Indonesian

The very earliest records in Malay are inscriptions on stone using a syllable-based script derived from the indigenous scripts of India. With the coming of Islam in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Arabic script was adopted to write Malay. Called Jawi script (huruf Jawi) or Arab-Malay script (huruf Arab-Melayu), today this script is still used in Malaysia and Brunei in a small number of publications, most notably in the Kuala Lumpur daily newspaper Utusan Melayu.

In Indonesia, Roman or Latin script (the script you are reading now) began to be used to write Malay from the latter half of the 19th. century, and by the early years of the 20th century it had effectively displaced Jawi script. At first the spelling of Malay was chaotic but eventually it stabilised, essentially following the conventions of Dutch spelling. Small adjustments were made to this spelling in 1947 (the so-called Soewandi spelling), and a comprehensive overhaul, called the Updated and Improved Spelling (Ejaan Yang Disempurnakan), was implemented in 1972. The latter reform was significant because, with a few small differences, it united the spelling of the Indonesian and Malaysian variants of the language. For more on the differences the spelling of Indonesia before and after 1972 refer to the box on p.726 below.

A huge number of abbreviations and acronyms are used in official contexts as well as in everyday life in Indonesia. These are described in brief in the box on p.1089.

FROM: George Quinn, The Learner’s Dictionary of Today’s Indonesian. Sydney :Allen & Unwin 2001 ISBN 1864485434

Indonesia — History and Culture

With more than 16,000 islands throughout the archipelago, Indonesia is home to a diverse and intriguing heritage. From the ancient indigenous cultures to the colonial development of the country, Indonesia is certainly one of the more exciting regions of Southeast Asia.


After the arrival of Austranesian people into the archipelago between 2,500 BCE and 1,500 BCE, Indonesia quickly developed dozens of kingdoms, some short-lived and some lasting for a lengthy period of time, like the all-conquering Srivijaya kingdom of Sumatra, and the Javanese-Malaysian kingdom of Majapahit. Unfortunately, the arrival of colonial powers brought these kingdoms to a standstill.

Marco Polo regularly passed through the Indonesian islands during the 1200’s. However, it wasn’t until the 1500’s that European presence began influencing the area. The Dutch and the British began colonizing parts of Sumatra, Java and the modern day Malaysian peninsula and eventually, Dutch forces took control of Indonesia in 1619, although there were small British sections in Sumatra.

Throughout Holland’s colonization of Indonesia there were dozens of uprisings across the country, but these were usually rapidly suppressed by the Dutch. This lasted until the early 1900’s, when the Japanese defeated both the Dutch and British forces to control Indonesia and much of Southeast Asia. This was originally met with cheers from locals, but Japanese control soon became brutal and bloody. Following the surrender of Japan in 1945, the archipelago was returned to the Dutch, although they didn’t return to the islands due to Holland’s destruction during the war. This paved the way for Indonesian independence.

The post-1945 period saw Indonesia experience conflict after conflict. Even today, independence issues still prevail in several areas of the archipelago. After four years of fighting, Indonesia finally defeated the Dutch forces, and took their independence in 1949. President Sukarno ruled until 1965, when a military coup led by General Suharto replaced the nationalist government. More than 30 years of economic stability and growth followed, but not without the country’s fair share of revolts and violence.

Suharto quelled any uprising brutally. In 1997, the reformist movement brought down Suharto, leading to a democratically elected government in 2004. Post-1997 saw several important events take place. East Timor gained independence after three decades of fighting in 2002. In 2004, the Boxing Day tsunami crippled the country, killing many thousands of citizens. Much of the country’s long history is on display at Jakarta’s National Museum (Jl Medan Merdeka Barat) and the political past can be found at Jakarta’s most visited site, the Monas or National Monument (Freedom Square, Jakarta).


Modern day Indonesia may be thriving with well-preserved colonial structures and influences, but there are plenty of ancient cultures still evident throughout the archipelago.

Despite the many different cultures within and between islands, the largest influence in Indonesia was Hindu that dominated the island during the Majahapit civilization. Even today, many of the ancient traditions are derived from Hindu, including the legendary shadow puppetry known as wayang kulit and the gamelan orchestra.

The local people are generally easygoing and friendly to visitors, but there are important etiquette tips to remember. Never use the left hand for anything, and saving face has become an important aspect of modern Indonesian society.

Indonesia History

Both Hinduism and Buddhism arrived from India around the 1st century, with the earliest Hindu influences evident in the 4th century in Java. Islam arrived via traders coming in from Gujarat in India circa the 11th century, surpassing both aforementioned religions by the 16th century. At the same time, the Portuguese traveled to and from Lisbon dominating the spice trade and simultaneously warring over coveted routes with the British, Dutch, and Indonesians.

The Golden Age in the 16th century was a time when the Netherlands signed the Union of Utrecht, vowing to fight Spanish occupation. Their port was recaptured and military and trade ships were sent out in an alliance with Belgium. Following this, the Dutch East India Company was created in 1602 by States General of the Netherlands and received a monopoly on trading within Asia for 20 years.

Indonesia Map

Indonesia was occupied by the Japanese from 1942 through 1945 during WWII, and they were almost welcomed as liberators of the Indonesians from the Dutch until the occupation proved to be ruinous and oppressive. The Dutch lost their grip on Indonesia and subsequently, after the Japanese surrendered at wars end, Indonesia&rsquos freedom struggle succeeded and the country&rsquos leader eventually declared independence in 1945.

Tea production in Indonesia

It was in the 1600s when Dutch colonists introduced tea into the country of Indonesia for the replication of success of tea plantations in the country. Though the initial experimentation was with a plethora of Chinese tea varieties, it was discovered that Assam teas are more suited to the hot and humid tropical climate of Indonesia. The mountain islands of Sulawesi, Sumatra, and Java proved to be favorable for the cultivation of tea with cooler temperature.

By the latter part of the nineteenth century, the tea trade of Indonesia flourished on an extensive scale. In spite of experiencing disruptions and set back at the time of the Second World War, at present, the country is regarded as the sixth largest producer of tea across the globe.

A short history of Indonesia

13 July 2007 (Brunei Times) – Perhaps the Brunei Times is running a series about writing the short histories of different countries in Southeast Asia. Today, it publishes a short history of Indonesia – not particularly accurate, it gives a sense as if there were a series of empires that replaced one another, that Srivijaya was replaced by the Sailendra and the Mataram who in turn were replaced by the Majapahit. In reality, Srivijaya lasted all the way to the 12th century before getting run out of Sumatra by the Majapahit. (See my earlier article about Srivijaya.) The Sailendra empire also had dynastic links with Srivijaya. The article also makes no distinction between the shifts in centres of power between Sumatra (Srivijaya) and Java (Sailendra, Mataram and Majapahit). You might also want to look up the Indonesian timeline featured earlier in this site.

Indonesian history

The Dutch began to colonize Indonesia in the early 17th century the islands were occupied by Japan from 1942 to 1945. Indonesia declared its independence after Japan’s surrender, but it required four years before the Netherlands agreed to relinquish its colony.

Fossilized remains of Homo erectus, popularly known as the “Java Man”, suggest the Indonesian archipelago was inhabited two million to 500,000 years ago.

Austronesian peoplearrived in Indonesia around 2000 BCE, and confined the native Melanesian peoples to the far eastern regions as they expanded.

Ideal agricultural conditions, and the mastering of rice cultivation allowed villages, towns, and small kingdoms to flourish by the first century CE.

Indonesian 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.

From the seventh century CE, the powerful Srivijaya naval kingdom flourished as a result of trade and the influences of Hinduism and Buddhism .

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 Borobudur and Prambanan.

Majapahit kingdom was founded in eastern Java in the late 13th century. Under Gajah Mada, its influence stretched over much of Indonesia. This period is often referred to as a “Golden Age” in Indonesian history.

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