History in Indonesia
Indonesia, similar to the rest of Southeast Asia, was influenced heavily by Indian culture. Starting in the 2nd century CE up until around the 12th century CE, Indian culture spread all throughout Southeast Asia via Indian dynasties like the Pallava and Gupta. It is written in the Ramayana, India’s earliest epic, that the Indian armies of Rama made their way to Yawadvipa, the island of Java as it was known then. In this period of around 1000 years, various Hindu and Buddhist states rose, flourished and then fell all across Indonesia. Even in East Kalimantan today, you will find three stone plinths, each of them 1600 years old, inscribed in Pallava scripts reading ‘A gift to the Brahmin priests.’ Brahman being a metaphysical Hindu concept; Brahma, a Hindu god; and Brahmin, the priesthood who practice Hinduism.
One of the notable kingdoms who helped ensure the spread of Buddhism and Hinduism were the Tarumanagara, who flourished between 358 and 669 CE. This kingdom existed in modern-day West Java, close to Jakarta. Around this time period, the Kalingga Kingdom was established in Central Java, they took their name from the ancient Indian kingdom of Kaling, which further strengthens the suggested link between Indian and Indonesian culture. From the 7th to 11th century CE, the archipelago was dominated in the political sense by Srivijaya, a Buddhist kingdom who constructed the ancient megalith of Borobodur. Around the 13th century, CE Islam started to spread and grow in Indonesia, particularly in Malacca on the west coast of the Malay Peninsula, one of the greatest Muslim trading empires. Islam spread slowly throughout the archipelago by Muslim sailors, who were in search of various spices, and was soon adopted and favoured by major traders and royalties. Other areas gradually adopted Islam, the religion overlaid and mixed in with existing cultures and religious influences. This is why where there is Islam in Indonesia, it often is joined with animist beliefs or other tribal religious values.
Indonesia has a Muslim population of around 87.2%, the vast majority. The country is marked by wide religious tolerance though. There is a Christian population of about 9.9% and a Hindu population who thrive on the island of Bali. Indonesians speak hundreds of different languages with thousands of different dialects, but the official language of the country is Indonesia or Bahasa. English and Dutch are also widely spoken, given the colonial history of the archipelago.
Successive sultanates were setup around the archipelago in the 16th and 17th centuries. During this same time, waves of Europeans sailed to the archipelago – the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and British – in an attempt to command the spice trade at its source. The Muslim sailors, with their Venetian clientele in the Mediterranean, had created a monopoly on the spice trade. Spices were highly valued at the time as ways to flavour food, and as medicines. Strong European influence in the Southeast Asian capital would not be fully realized until the 18th century with the expansion of the Dutch East India Company. When Europe was enveloped by the Napoleonic Wars, the Netherlands, and in particular the Dutch East India Company, became a kind of puppet for the French empire, though officially the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) remained a colony of the Empire of Holland.
Some of the Dutch East Indies was contested by the presence of the British East India Company, and in 1811 the island of Java fell to the British. The island was eventually returned to the Dutch in 1815. The Dutch continued to control the Dutch East Indies until the mid-1900’s. An Indonesia revolutionary nationalist movement, led by Sukarno, welcomed Japanese invaders as a potential means of liberation. Sukarno spread support for the Japanese in the East Indies in exchange that the Japanese would promulgate nationalistic ideas during wartime. When the Japanese were defeated at the end of WW2, Sukarno was appointed the first President of Indonesia. He led the Indonesian people in resisting Dutch re-colonization efforts, and in 1949, the Dutch officially acknowledged Indonesian independence.
The PKI (Indonesian Communist Part) was officially the largest communist party in the world outside of the Soviet Union. In September 1965, a coup was launched by various sections of the army with the full support of the PKI. Sukarno eventually overthrew the revolt with discreet support from Western powers. Between 400,000 and one million communist party members were massacred. Sukarno lost support following the coup and had to transfer power to his then general Suharto. In the 1960s and 1970s, East Timor and Irian Jaya were annexed by Indonesia. Throughout the 1990s pro-democracy powers came to power, and Suharto was eventually ousted. Today, Indonesia’s governmental system is officially a presidential representative democratic republic.
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