Wonders of Indonesia

Indonesia is a country in the Southeastern Asia very near the equatorial line, composed by the greatest archipelago of the world, which has around 17508 islands dispersed between seas that belong to Asia and Oceania, being the greatest islands Java (which is the most populous with almost two thirds of the population), Sumatra (the biggest), Bali and Sulawesi.

Its capital is the city of Jakarta and in total Indonesia occupies an area of 1 919 440 square Kilometers. Indonesia has borders with Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Malaysia as well as Singapore, Philippines, Australia and the India; Indonesia shares territories with these countries in several islands.

The name of the country was originated in the XVIII century and derives of the Latin word Indus (India) and the Greek word nesos (island). The term Indonesia, was popularized by several English and Dutch publications, which used this word to refer the Indian Archipelago or Malayan Archipelago. By the beginning of the XX century the word Indonesia was used commonly in the academic circles and soon it was used also by the common people.

Indonesia is also one of the most populous countries of the planet, with a population composed by about 234 million people, most of them Muslim. Indonesia concentrates the greatest Muslim population of the world. But, Indonesia is a country with a great ethical diversity. There are around 300 ethnic groups in the country; therefore the main motto of Indonesia is “Bhinneka tunggal ika” (“Unity in Diversity”). The main ethnic groups of the country are Javanese (45%), Sundanese (14%), Madurese (7.5%) and Coastal Malays (7.5%).

Because of its equatorial position, there are only two seasons in the country: wet season (from November to March) and dry season (from June to October). Both seasons are quite hot, with an average temperature of 28ºC (82ºF) in the coastal zones and 23ºC (73 ºF) in the mountain zones. The annual rainfall rate in the most parts of the country is 2000 millimetres and the average humidity is around 82%.

The main products of exportation of Indonesia are the petroleum and the natural gas. The agriculture is also an important economical activity in the country and in the last decades tourism has become a great financial source for the country, mainly in Bali which is considered one of the best tourist destinations of the world because of its impressive natural beauty and its amazing culture.

The Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 affected seriously the Indonesian economy; nevertheless, the national economy is now quite stable and the economy is growing slowly, but this growth rate is not enough yet to solve the high poverty levels of the country.

The human presence in the country is very ancient. The famous Homo Erectus one of the oldest species of hominids was found for first time in the island of Java, therefore is known as the “Java Man”, this ancestor of the man lived in the Java Island around 1000000 years ago. It believes that first men arrived to Indonesia from the South Asia in 2000 BC.

Nevertheless, the first small kingdoms were founded in the VIII century BC these ancient civilizations flourished thanks to the agriculture which is still one of the most important activities in the country because of the rich and fertile lands of the majority of islands that composed the Archipelago. It is also during this time that the first commercial links with China and India were established. These links with the two greatest cultures of Asia has played an important role in the history and culture of Indonesia.

The influence of the Hinduism and Buddhism caused the creation of one of the first important reigns of the zone, the Srivijaya kingdom. This reign reached its peak in the VII century and its influence was based on the naval power and the trade.

The Java island was almost always the politic center of the Archipelago, thus this island hosted the most important dynasties of the Indonesian history, such as the Saliendra, Mataram and Singasari from the VIII century to the X century or the powerful Majapahit dynasty, which ruled in Java between XIII and XVI centuries.

The period of government of this dynasty is considered the golden age of the country’s history, mainly while the King Hayam Wuruk ruled (1331 – 1364). Most ancient monumental treasures of the country were built during the reign of the Mahapahit dynasty.

The main religion of the country (mainly in Java and Sumatra) is the Islam. The first Muslim traders from Persia arrived to the Archipelago in the XIII century mainly to north of Sumatra, step by step the Islam became the greatest religion of the country with exception of the Bali Island, where the Hinduism is still now the main religion.

At the end of the Majapahit Empire, the Sultan of Demak (at north of Java) conquered the capital of the kingdom, Sunda Kelapa and he gave to Sunda Kelapa city its current name “Jakarta”.

Europeans discovered the culture of Indonesia in 1512 when a Portuguese expedition led by Francisco Serrao arrived to Maluku trying to control the trade of cloves, nutmeg and pepper. An Alliance between Portuguese and Spaniards tried to conquer the Archipelago; nevertheless, the main Sultans of Indonesia repelled the invasion at the end of the XVI century.

But, Dutch and English still fought for the control of the Archipelago. In 1602 Dutch, created the Dutch East India Company, then Netherlands became the greatest western power in the region and later established a colony. Dutch controlled the Archipelago but they never got a complete control of the country.

During the World War II, Japanese invaded Indonesia finishing with the Dutch rule. After the defeat of Japan in 1945; The Indonesian leader Sukarno declared the independence of the country. Dutch tried to recover the control of Indonesia using diplomatic and warlike means. But, finally in 1949 Netherlands recognized the Indonesian Independence.

Sukarno became the president of Indonesia headed a regimen democratic at the beginning but authoritarian at the end. The Sukarno’s government finished in 1968, when the “New Order Administration”, (a military organization led by the general Suharto) took advantage of the decline of Sukarno’s regimen and got the control of Indonesia.

The New Order ruled in the country with the support of United States, despite the authoritarian character of the regimen and the constant accusations of corruption and political repression, However, after the Asian Economic Crisis of the last years of the 1990s, which generate many protests in all the country, general Suharto was forced to leave the power.

Unfortunately, the fall of the authoritarian regimen, produced the eruption of the ethnic, religious and political tensions, causing waves of violence in several provinces like Borneo, Irian Jaya, Aceh, Ambon and mainly in Eastern Timor where after a referendum that decided the separation of Indonesia, the Indonesian army, repressed brutally Timorese citizens, many people were killed, but in 2002 thanks to the International Intervention, Eastern Timor achieved finally its independence.

Now, Indonesia is a constitutional republic with a presidential system. In 2004 for first time the people elected directly their president. The country is fighting against the natural disasters, the corruption and the separatism which have characterized the recent history of Indonesia.

Unfortunately great tragedies like the Terrible Tsunami of December 26, 2004 and the terrorist attacks of Muslim fundamentalist groups such as the suicide bombing in Bali in 2005 have affected seriously the country’s image. But, despite these facts Indonesia is a wonderful country with a marvelous culture and is still one of the favorite destinations of tourists from the entire world.