Your journey to Indonesia will be a better experience if you get to know more about its past and all types of influences which made Indonesia be just like it is today. That’s why we prepared a short guide through the history of Indonesia. So, let’s start exploring the dynamic past of this wonderful country.
Not long ago prevailed the belief that about 500 000 years ago in central Java a primitive humanoid with African origin (Homo erectus) had lived. Homo erectus inhabited Indonesia after he found the isthmus which existed back then and crossed it. Indonesia was his habitat until Homo sapiens appeared. That’s when Homo erectus was wiped out.
However, in 2003, remains of a small inhabitant of the islands, nicknamed “hobbit”, were discovered, suggesting that Homo erectus survived much longer than it was previously thought, and that timeline of the evolutionary history of Indonesia should be reconsidered, though many scientists remain skeptical when it comes to this theory.
Most Indonesians are descended from the Malay people, who began to migrate from Cambodia, Vietnam and southern China in 4000 BC. These settlers were forming small kingdoms and around 700 BC they had already developed sophisticated techniques of rice cultivation.
Hinduism and Buddhism history
The growing prosperity of these early kingdoms quickly attracted the attention of Indian and Chinese traders, and together with silks and spices, they also brought Hinduism and Buddhism to Indonesia.
These religions rooted quickly in the area of the archipelago and soon became a key element of the great kingdoms of the first millennium AD. Buddhist empire of Srivijaya dominated over the peninsula of Malacca and southern Sumatra, taking advantage of the ownership of strategically important Strait of Malacca, while the Hindu Kingdom of Mataram and the Buddhist Sailendra dominated central Java. On its fertile land that gave them prosperity, they built great monuments of Borobudur and Prambanan.
In 1294, the Kingdom of Mataram was replaced by an even more powerful Hindu kingdom, the Majapahit, which made extensive annexations to its territory under the reign of Hayam Wuruk and his prime minister, Gajah Mada. Although it may seem exaggerated now, they controlled much of Sulawesi, Sumatra and Borneo, so there is no doubt that most of Bali, Java and Madura were within its borders.
Anyway, things changed soon. Despite the enormous power and influence of the empire of Majapahit, nationwide important abysses opened, and the golden age of Hinduism came quickly to an end.
Along with Islam came strength, reason and the will to confront Majapahit and satellite kingdoms and arms were immediately taken up against the Hindu kings. In the XV century, the Majapahit leaders fled to Bali, where the Hindu culture was still preserved, and Java was in the hands of increasingly powerful Islamic sultanates. Meanwhile, the influential merchant kingdoms of Malacca (in the Malay Peninsula) and Makassar (South Sulawesi) also adopted Islam, placing the seed that was supposed to make modern Indonesia the most populous Muslim country in the world.
European expansion history
Portuguese had conquered Malacca in 1511 and Europe quickly set its sights on the wealth of the archipelago, which led to two centuries of turmoil in which Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and British control was disputed. By 1700, the Dutch dominated the game, and the Dutch East India Company controlled the lucrative spice market, becoming the first multinational company in the world.
However, after the bankruptcy of this company, the British imposed the government of Sir Stamford Raffles (1811-1816) in Java. After the Napoleonic Wars, Britain gave the island to the Dutch, who remained in control until its independence from Indonesia, 129 years later.
As you can see, the area of Indonesia in this period was not a peaceful domain, but that is not all. The Dutch faced numerous rebellions against Prince Diponegoro in Java, who was defeated in 1830 after five years of guerrilla warfare, during which he killed 8,000 Dutch soldiers.
Path of independence
At the beginning of XX century, the Dutch had managed to get the most of the archipelago, but the revolutionary tradition of Diponegoro never entirely disappeared, and remained so until young Sukarno came. The debate was put up with the Japanese invasion of Indonesia during World War II, but their withdrawal led to declaring the Indonesian independence, on August 17, 1945.
However, the Dutch were not willing to give up so easily. With the support of the United Kingdom, which had entered Indonesia to accept the Japanese surrender, they moved quickly to assert their authority over the country. The resistance was hard, with four stormy years of guerrilla warfare. US and UN opposition to the new imposition of colonialism and the growing number of casualties forced the Netherlands to withdraw. Finally, on December 27, 1949, the Indonesian flag finally flew over the Istana Merdeka (Liberty Palace).
Depression, division and dictatorship