The History Of Indonesia

A Rough History

Indonesia’s history comes from a wealth of immigrants. Have you ever heard of the term Java man? Well java man lived here around half 1 million years ago, we know this through the work of Eugene Dubois who found the remains in Java in 1809, hence the name Java man.

From the original inhabitants of Homo-erect-us this left space for others to enter Indonesia around 60,000 years ago. These people’s moved across Indonesia into New Guinea and onwards to Australia some 30.000 to 40,000 years ago and today we can find their ancestors in Papua. To understand Indonesia‘s history more we have to look at the sea. The people of Indonesia arrived in smallish groups from all over Asia and Africa bringing with them religions, crafts, skills and new ways of life.

Java Man - Sangiran Museum, Central Java
Java Man – Sangiran Museum, Central Java (Source :

The first modern religion to arrive in Indonesia was Hinduism and this came with the Indian traders. This was around the period of the fifth century and Hinduism blended well with the local existing forms of worship. Following that Buddhism arrived brought by the new trading partner of China. If you look at the peoples, ethnic groups, of Indonesia today we can still see this rich heritage of yesteryears.

Around the seventh century there began a great change in Indonesian people before this point they lived predominantly in small communities and looked after themselves. However kingdoms were now being formed across the lands, one of the first great Kingdoms of Indonesia was in the island of Sumatra. It was a Buddhist kingdom of Sriwijaya. This emperor found his power through his mastery to balance all of the foreign traders arriving in his ports that brought wealth and power however as time progressed new ports and new trade links were established across the Indonesian coast and towards the 14th century this empire slowly began to crumble.

Majapahit Empire
Majapahit Empire (Source :

Perhaps the largest and most commemorated kingdom was the kingdom from Central Java ruled by a Sailendra. This initially small kingdom grew rich on an agricultural bases, from this source of funds they were able to build lavish and extensive religious monuments which can still be visited today, such as Borobudur or Prambanan. This is not to say that these were trouble-free times for example in 1292, Kublai Khan sent an envoy to lay down terms for the surrender of the Javanese kingdom however the emissary was sent home with his nose cut off and the word NO tattooed on his forehead.

Indonesia saw the greatest change though not through the sword or politics but through religion. In the 11th century Indian traders brought Islam to the islands of the archipelago. This mass conversion was more of a slow steady stream rather than a revolution as there was no real centre to the transformation however through the years many of the kingdoms changed religion and turned away from the Buddhist and Hindu’s beliefs they once held. Islam spread through Indonesia state by state and across the country, this was noted by Marco Polo when he visited North Sumatra at the end of the 13th century.

Colonialism is known in its primitive form, that is to say, by the permanent settling of repressive foreign powers, with an army, services, policies. This phase has known cruel colonial occupations which have lasted 300 years in Indonesia.
– Ahmed Ben Bella

Things remained relatively calm for the next couple of centuries until the Europeans arrived. Up to this point Indonesia had always traded and benefited from its trading with other countries. This European arrival marked a huge change in Indonesia’s history the first to arrive were the Portuguese. Now we have the birth of what the Western world knows as the Spice Islands. One of the key trading points was Malacca, it traded in such things as cloves, nutmeg and mace, these were traded not just for their cooking properties but they’re also believed to be medicines as well. The sailors returning from the treacherous journey back to Europe to find they could sell their wears for a king’s ransom. The Portuguese and the British claimed relative success in Indonesia however it was the Dutch that would see the real financial opportunity within Indonesia. Next to come was the VOC – The Dutch East India Trading Company.

Attack of the Dutch on a Balinese stronghold in Lombok in 1894.
Attack of the Dutch on a Balinese stronghold in Lombok in 1894 (Source :

Dutch influence, control, was to remain in Indonesia for over 350 years. And today we can still see this influence in architecture, language and culture. Independence was won, yet it was won at a price, on 17 August 1945 the Indonesian Republic officially proclaimed its independence.

During that period until today Indonesia has struggled to find its feet as an emerging democracy yet it has achieved so much in such a short period of time. The Indonesian people have experienced civil unrest and violence and human rights issues. Nevertheless Indonesia has never lost its innocence and enthusiasm. The people of Indonesia are warm and welcoming as they were to the first traders arriving on it’s shores. Over the years it has experienced many things and their culture and traditions reflect this. All that awaits us is to discover more of its history.

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