Historians and geologists believe that what is now Indonesia probably existed as long ago as four million years ago and was part of mainland Asia. The famous Java Man (Pithecanthropus erectus), whose fossil remains have been discovered on the island of Java, might have been among the first inhabitants of the region. From the start the islands of Indonesia have experienced various waves of peoples, and their cultures, languages, and spiritual beliefs have merged gradually.
Between 3000 and 500 B.C.E Indonesia was inhabited by sub-Mongoloid migrants from Asia who married and intermingled with the indigenous people. The earliest settlers from India, who migrated to the islands during the first century C.E., were primarily from the coastal regions. During the Saka period in Indonesia the Sanskrit language and the Pallawa script (metrical Sanskrit) were introduced by the Indian Prince Aji Saka (78). The adapted language and script were called the Kawi language; words and phrases from the Javanese language were incorporated into it.
The Greek astronomer and geographer Ptolemy of Alexandria (fl. second century) referred to Indonesia, which he called Abadiou in his writings. In 144 the Chinese traveler Fa Xian (c. 337–c. 422) visited and stayed in Java. At that time the northern part of the island was ruled by an Indonesian Hindu king named Kudungga, the first king of Indonesia.
Buddhism came to Indonesia between the first and second centuries. Of the two sects, Hinayana and Mahayana, the latter became more prominent in the eighth century. In the seventh century, trade relations flourished between the southern parts of India (including Orissa) and Indonesia. Sumatra was then named Suvarna Dwipa (“island of gold”), while Java was called Java Dwipa (“island of oats” or “millet”). The Indian settlers continued to pour into Indonesia up until the seventh century.
and the Hindu religion gradually and peacefully spread throughout the entire region. The local people from all strata of society were influenced by the tenets of Hinduism.
Around the seventh century the kingdom of Srivijaya, centered in the Palembang region of Sumatra, controlled major parts of Sumatra, western Java, and a large portion of the Malay Peninsula. Dominating the straits of Malacca and Sunda, this kingdom played a key role in the trade and commercial activities of the region. As a bastion of Mahayana Buddhism Srivijaya attracted pilgrims and scholars from all over Asia. A famous Buddhist kingdom in Central Java was ruled by the Sailendra Dynasty. During their regime (between 750 and 850), the worldrenowned Borobudur temple was built. The Sailendra kingdom was also famous for its flourishing arts and culture as well as its naval strength.
The kingdom of Singasari emerged in East Java under King Dharmawangsa (911–1007). He codified the laws of the land and got the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita translated into Javanese. The Singasari Kingdom was succeeded by the Majapahit Kingdom, whose first ruler was Prince Wijaya. During the reign of King Hayam Wuluk (1334–89) this empire emerged as the most powerful kingdom in Indonesia. It acquired and maintained dependencies in North Vietnam, Kampuchea (Cambodia), and the Philippines during the years 1331–64. This golden era produced major literary works.
In the 13th century Muslim merchants from India and Persia arrived in Indonesia to engage in trade. They propagated Islam among the Indonesian people, particularly in the coastal areas of Demak on Java. The influx of Muslims eventually caused the decline of the Majapahit kingdom (1293–1520).
During the decades that followed Islam spread rapidly throughout the entire archipelago.
The Portuguese arrived in Indonesia in 1511, after conquering Malacca on the Malay Peninsula.
They were followed by the Spaniards. The two colonial powers began propagating Christianity and were successful in their endeavors, particularly in Molucca.
Later, in 1651 the Dutch invaded Kupang in Western Timor. Despite the presence of the Dutch in Timor a formal and clear-cut demarcation of the territories held by Holland and Portugal did not take place until almost 200 years later. On April 20, 1859, the Dutch signed a treaty with Portugal to divide Timor into two portions. The Dutch occupied the western part of the island, and Portugal the eastern part. Portugal held sway over East Timor until 1975.
The Indonesian movement for independence began in the early part of the 20th century. The Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) was founded in 1920. In 1927 the Indonesian Nationalist Party (PNI) gained prominence under the leadership of Sukarno (1901–70). In August 1945 after the Japanese surrender, Sukarno and Muhammad Hatta (1902–80), another nationalist leader, declared the country an independent republic. The Dutch strongly resisted the upsurge of nationalism, which resulted in four years of intermittent, often heavy, fighting. Finally under UN pressure, an agreement was reached in November 1949 for the creation of an independent republic of Indonesia. A new constitution was drawn up to provide a parliamentary form of government and Sukarno was elected president.
Sukarno’s administration was marked by inefficiency, corruption, and chaos. The mass expulsion of Dutch citizens (during the 1950s) and seizure of their property for public use adversely affected the economy. A populist revolt, springing from a desire for greater autonomy, began on the island of Sumatra early in 1958, spreading to Sulawesi and several other islands of the archipelago; in retaliation Sukarno tightened his authoritarian rule. The parliament was dissolved and the constitution of 1945 reinstated.
In early 1962 Sukarno sent paratroopers to Netherlands New Guinea, forcing the Dutch to agree to transfer that area to the United Nations with the understanding that it would come under Indonesian control by May 1963 following a referendum.
Meanwhile Sukarno in 1963 declared Indonesia’s opposition to the newly created Federation of Malaysia and initiated guerrilla raids into Malaysian territory on Borneo; the ensuing conflict lasted three years.
Sukarno began increasingly to tilt toward the left and made overtures to Communist China.
About this time there was an aborted Communist coup sparked by the assassination of six high officials of the Army. The coup was quelled by the armed forces, which gradually assumed power under the leadership of General Suharto (b. 1921), while retaining Sukarno as de jure leader. The following weeks and months witnessed the bloody massacre of Communists as well as other innocent people. Chaos and anarchy prevailed. Gradually General Suharto ceased hostilities against Malaysia, banned the PKI, fostered close ties with the United States, and in 1966 rejoined the United Nations. In 1967 Indonesia became a founding member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In March 1967 Sukarno was voted out of power and General Suharto became acting president.
Suharto was elected president in 1968 and reelected in all subsequent elections through 1998.
Under his rule the government reinstated an earlier Dutch colonial policy of “transmigration,” by which farmers from the overpopulated islands of Java and Bali were moved to the underpopulated areas of Kalimantan, Sumatra, and Papua. During Suharto’s regime his family held sway over much of Indonesia’s economic life; corruption became rampant. In October 1997 the country was plunged into a crisis when the value of its currency plummeted. Struggling under crushing foreign debt and Suharto’s reluctance to implement the reforms prescribed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Indonesia’s economy continued to worsen.
In 1998 student protests and riots over skyrocketing prices spread across the country. In May 1998 Suharto stepped down and his vice president B. J.
Habibie (b. 1936), assumed the presidency, promising reforms and honest administration, among other things. Around this time there was a major crisis related to Indonesian-controlled East Timor, which sought independence. The rebellion was brutally suppressed, but East Timor eventually won independence after UN peacekeepers established order.
In the June 1999 parliamentary elections, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, led by Megawati Sukarnoputri (b. 1947; daughter of Sukarno), topped the list with 34 percent of the vote; President Habibie’s Golkar party came in second, with 22 percent. In the presidential elections of October 1999 Abdurrahman Wahid (b. 1940), of the National Awakening party, became the country’s first democratically elected president. Megawati failed to build the coalition needed to win; nevertheless she was chosen by the parliament as vice president.
Indonesia’s economy began to revive in 2000, though the currency (rupiah) again experienced a sharp loss in value. Indonesia still faces many problems, including rising Islamic extremism (and religious conflict generally), military insubordination, official corruption, a fragile democratic process, and separatist movements.

Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world. It comprises five major islands and 30 smaller groups, bringing the total number of islands to approximately 17,508. The archipelago is located between the Pacific and the Indian Oceans; it bridges the continents of Asia and Australia. Its sea area is four times its land area, which is about 1.2 million square miles.
The five main islands are: Sumatra (284,285 square miles), Java/Madura (82,087 square miles), Kalimantan (355,204 square miles), Sulawesi (117,572 square miles), and Irian Jaya (262,206 square miles).
The land is covered by lush tropical rain forests, and the fertile soil is regularly replenished by volcanic eruptions such as those on the island of Java. Indonesia is predominantly mountainous with 400 volcanoes, out of which 100 are still active. Some of the highest peaks are Mt. Leuser and Mt. Kerinci (Sumatra), Mt.
Gede, Mt. Tangkubanperahu, and Mt. Ciremai (Java).
Several rivers flow through the country, and they are used extensively for transportation. Many of the islands also possess beautiful, placid lakes.
Indonesia experiences two tropical seasons, which are influenced by the equatorial and the meridian air circulations. The climate changes every six months. The dry season (June to September) is influenced by the Australian continental air masses, while the rainy season (December to March) is affected by the Asian and Pacific Ocean air masses. The country’s tropical areas get rain all year round. The transitional periods are April–May and October–November.
Temperatures vary due to the large number of islands and mountains. The average temperature on the coastal plains is 82°F; and in the inland and mountain areas it is 79°F. In the higher mountainous areas, it hovers around 73°F, depending on the altitude.
Because of Indonesia’s location in the tropical zone, the relative humidity regularly tops 70 percent.

The economy of Indonesia is predominantly market based, but the government plays a key role in it. In fact the government owns and controls most of the large-scale enterprises and determines the prices of fuel, rice, and electricity. Indonesia exports large quantities of coal, crude oil, gas, wood, and wooden products, along with pottery and ceramics. Imports include machinery and equipment, chemicals, fuels, and food.
In the aftermath of the economic crisis that shook the country in 1997, the government took over many private sector assets. During the 1980s the incumbent government began to take steps to stimulate employment and growth in the non-oil export sector. Annual real gross domestic product growth was as high as 7 percent between 1987 and 1997. International analysts confirmed that Indonesia was emerging as a newly industrializing economy and also a major international market.

Indonesian society is made up of diverse ethnic, cultural, and religious groups, but mass education, the mass media, and the nationalistic policies of the government have helped foster a distinct Indonesian identity and culture, with Bahasa Indonesia serving as the lingua franca.
The national craft of Indonesia is batik, the art of applying wax to cloth followed by tie-dying in colorful and dramatic designs. The center of batik is Yogyakarta on the island of Java. Other artistic crafts include ikat, a distinct style of weaving with tie-dyed threads, songket, a kind of silk cloth with gold or silver threads woven into it; and kris, artwork embellished with jewels.
Javanese wayang (puppet) plays and gamelan (complex improvised rhythms created by groups of percussion players) are some of the well-known and popular elements of Indonesian culture. Indonesia is a polyglot nation in which the myriad communities continue to speak their distinct languages and dialects.
Islam is the predominant religion of the archipelago.
In Indonesia social and religious norms, etiquette, and duties are largely governed by Islamic law. The code of ethics is familiarly called adat. However religious practices are influenced by elements of Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as animism. In spite of a long period of colonialism, Christian missionaries succeeded in converting only small pockets of the Indonesian population to Christianity.

Indonesians usually have their main meal in the middle of the day. The food cooked in the morning is used up, and nothing is saved for the next meal.
Family members help themselves, serving each dish with a spoon and using the right hand only.
A system of communal cooking and a strict hierarchy determine an individual’s role and behavior at the table. The centerpiece of each meal is a huge mound of long-grain polished rice. The main meal consists of soups, salads, and different types of curries. Each meal is invariably accompanied by at least one or more sambals, or spice relishes, that are mixed with the food.
Indonesian gastronomy uses a good deal of coconut milk, which goes into the making of beverages, sauces, soups, and even rice. Traditional spices include coriander, pepper, garlic, turmeric, cassia (similar to cinnamon), bay leaf, star anise, ginger, tamarind, galangal (related to ginger), cardamom, lemon grass, shallots, peanuts, and so on. The Indonesians also eat lots of dried anchovies and prawns as part of their meals. Many Indonesian dishes are influenced by Chinese culinary arts, but dishes such as padang (a heavily spiced style of cooking, which is native to Sumatra) are totally indigenous.
On the streets of the cities and towns, vendors selling potato-based snacks, sweet nuts, biscuits, and fruit are a common sight. Nasi goreng (fried rice) is one of the most common dishes, while sate (skewered meats with a spicy peanut sauce), gado-gado (made with bean sprouts and vegetables in peanut sauce), and seafood items are also favorites. Indonesia boasts a great variety of tropical fruits—indigenous ones such as durians and rambutans—along with custard apples, guavas, papayas, mangoes, starfruit, and jackfruit, to name a few.

The birth of a new child is a time of great rejoicing in the Indonesian Muslim community, since children are considered a token of Allah’s compassion. Children are often referred to in Islam as “wealth.” Immediately after birth the baby is thoroughly washed.
According to Islamic tenets the first sound that a baby ought to hear is the sacred name of Allah. This is customarily uttered by its father (or a male relative), who whispers the call to prayer, or adhan, first into the child’s right ear and then into its left ear. The idea is to make the child aware of Allah’s omnipresence and his power over the lives of mortals.
When the child is between three and seven days old, its head is shaved to remove the natal impurities.
This ceremony is known as the aqiqah, and it symbolizes the removal of misfortune and evil so that the child can embark on a good and trouble-free life.
The hair is collected and weighed, and the equivalent weight in silver is given to the poor. Then the hair is buried. Some Muslim families also sacrifice an animal on such occasions and distribute the meat to the people in their neighborhoods.
Muslim children are not named at birth. The choice of name is believed to have a direct bearing on the character and behavior of the child during its lifetime. The local imam is often consulted on the naming. On the day of purification the child is also given a proper name.

Muslim boys generally experience a major change in status through circumcision (khitan) after they have recited the entire Koran. In Islamic countries where this procedure is followed, the boy undergoes the operation between the ages of 10 and 12. This is a puberty rite, separating the boy from childhood and introducing him to adult status. In Indonesian Muslim families this occasion is accompanied by a good deal of festivity, including music, special foods, and many guests.

The majority of the population in Indonesia is Muslim.
Most Muslim marriages are decided by the two sets of parents. According to Islamic tenets, however, the prospective bride and groom are free to refuse the spouse that has been selected by their parents or elders.
Prior to the actual wedding the two families decide on a specific amount of money, or articles in kind, that the groom’s family must give to the bride.
This sum of money is in reality a security deposit for the bride in case the marriage fails. Muslim weddings in Indonesia take place in the bride’s home.
The rites are conducted by an imam.
The bride and the bridegroom sit in separate rooms during the marriage ceremony. Two guests— one from the bride’s family and one from the groom’s family—witness the bride’s consent to the marriage and inform the imam. The ceremony begins with the imam reciting relevant passages from the Koran. The imam then speaks about the duties of marriage and asks the bridegroom whether he agrees to the marriage. Once the bridegroom has assented, the bride, bridegroom, and two witnesses sign a marriage contract.
The Koran says that a man may marry up to four wives but only if he can treat them all equally. If a marriage does not work out, the Koran says that couples may get divorced but only as a last resort.
First the couple must try to resolve its problems. If this does not work, each spouse must choose a friend or relative for counseling. If this too fails, they must wait four months before they can end their marriage.

All religions accept death as a part of human life.
Since death is unpredictable but inevitable, Muslims are exhorted always to be prepared. They bury their dead, unlike Hindus and Buddhists, who are cremated.
Islam prohibits cremation. Muslims are taught to treat the dead body with gentleness and respect. In Indonesia (as in all Islamic societies), it is customary for Muslims to wash the dead body, perfume it, and drape it in a fresh new white cloth before burial. The burial is supposed to take place as soon as possible after death. The dead person’s face is turned toward Mecca, the arms and legs straightened out, and the mouth and eyes closed. A baby who dies at birth, or even a stillborn child, must have a name.
The friends, relatives, and acquaintances of a deceased person come together for prayers. Then the men carry the corpse to the graveyard. Religious laws forbid Muslim women from attending burials. Some women, however, do break this rule. The men attending a funeral form a double line facing each other and pass the bier on their shoulders toward the grave. In the case of a child, the bier is carried in the arms of a relative. The wrapped body is customarily laid directly at the bottom of the grave, on its right side with its face turned toward M e c c a .
A l t h o u g h graves are dug by professional gravediggers, the task of filling it with earth is carried out by the relatives and all those present, who throw handfuls of dirt into the grave as a token of solidarity and remembrance.
Attendants at funerals cover their heads as a mark of respect for the deceased.
The grave is sealed and then marked by a small elevation to differentiate it from the level ground nearby. After the funeral a wake is held for both men and the women, usually on the same day.