The word Indonesia appears in the 1920’s and it is only in 1949 that Indonesia was granted its independence. Since Java man’s era, the country has lived through various kingdoms, wars, colonization, periods of dictatorship and democracy. Let’s go back in time together and learn everything about the history of Indonesia.
When discovered in the early 1890’s in Solo region, Java man’s skeleton was over a million years old but the history of Indonesia probably began around 50,000 BC. At that time, Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Bali were attached to Asian continent as the sea level was lower than it is today. This helped the first negroid and australoid populations to reach the country. Between 3000 and 500 BC there was a second wave of migration. The first civilization in Indonesia dates back to 1000 BC. Originating from Vietnam and North China, the Dong Son developed their crafts and rituals in Java and Bali.
In the history of Indonesia, the trade of spices from the archipelago made the influence of Indian culture stronger and stronger during the 4th century. Hinduism and Buddhism were spread across the archipelago. Still today, you can visit the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan during your holiday in Indonesia. The first writings in Sanskrit, the language used by Indian intellectuals and religious people, date back to the 5th century.
In the 7th century, Srivijaya, an important trader in all South East Asia, built his Kingdom in Indonesia. At that time, he had control over the Strait of Malacca, from Malaysia to West Java. In central Java the rival kingdom of Mataram was lead first by a Hindu dynasty, the Sanjaya, then by a Buddhist dynasty, the Sailendra. Bali is also strongly influenced by Indian culture and the original animism is slowly fading away in favour of Indian religions.
Islam was probably introduced on the archipelago during the 9th century and it will be very important in the history of Indonesia. During the 15th and 16th century, Islam spread along trade routes thanks to the influence of Indonesian leaders who were Muslim. The fall of Majapahit Empire brought educated people, clergy and nobles afraid of the rise of Islam in Java to Bali. Bali has been a Hindu territory ever since.
Spice trade between Indonesia and Europe started when Portuguese landed on the archipelago. The first colonial trading post was settle in the Moluccas, also known as the spice islands. Spaniards, English and Dutch coveted the spot but it’s finally the Dutch who won the battle and in 1602, they created the Dutch East India Company. They gained control over the spice trade in the area to the detriment of local populations who were massacre or enslaved. They razed Jayakarta to the ground and built Batavia following the model of Amsterdam. A that time, Indonesia is divided into small kingdoms which make it easier for the Dutch to control the entire territory. In 1800, the Dutch East India went bankrupt. French, then English gained control over Batavia but only for a short period of time. Dutch stayed in Indonesia until the middle of the 20th century.
In 1927, after creating the Indonesian nationalist party, Sukarno was imprisoned by the Dutch. It’s only after WW2 that the Netherlands agreed to grant independence to Indonesia. Independence was proclaimed on August 17, 1945 but officially recognized 4 years later on December 27, 1949. Unfortunately the cultural diversity, social disparities as well as the lack of common education lead the newly independent state of Indonesia to sink in chaos.
It was not until 1955 that the first elections took place. Sukarno, a Marxist and anti-imperialist figure was elected. With the corruption growing and the failed coup in 1965, Sukarno decided to retire in 1967. His successor, General Suharto was elected by the Congress in 1968. Favouritism, corruption and nepotism will be the hallmarks of Suharto’s authoritarian and capitalist regime. He opens Indonesia to foreign capital and invests in unachievable projects such as manufacturing a national car or plane. At the end of the 20th century, unemployment is rising, investors are withdrawing, currency is crashing and students starts to rebel against the official power. Suharto resigns in 1998 under national and international pressure.
Last part of the history of Indonesia: the rise of democracy. In 2004, the first presidential elections by direct suffrage were held. The country regained economic stability. Elected in 2014 and re-elected in 2019, Joko Widodo is the President of the Republic of Indonesia. Today, Indonesia is the third largest democracy right behind India and the US and the most important Muslim country in terms of population.