Ever since prehistoric times the Indonesian archipelago has been inhabited. Java Man or pithecanthropus erectus (upright apeman) is the oldest known inhabitant here, having lived over a million years ago. Other more recent prehistoric species include the still disputed homo Floresiensis, or the Flores hobbits, dwarf people, who have also made these islands their home.
Historically, Chinese chronicles mention that trade between India, China and these islands was already thriving since the first century AD. The powerful maritime empire of Criwijaya with capital around Palembang in southern Sumatra, was the centre for Buddhism learning and was known for its wealth. It held sway over the Sumatra seas and the Malacca Straits from the 7th to the 13th. century. In the 8th -9th century, the Sailendra Dynasty of the Mataram kingdom in Central Java built the magnificent Buddhist Borobudur temple in Central Java, this was followed by the construction of the elegant Hindu Prambanan Temple built by the Civaistic king Rakai Pikatan of the Sanjaya line.
From 1294 to the 15th century the powerful Majapahit Kingdom in East Java held suzerainty over a large part of this archipelago. Meanwhile, small and large sultanates thrived on many islands of the archipelago, from Sumatra to Java and Bali, to Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Ternate and the Moluccas.
In the 13th century, Islam entered Indonesia through the trade route by way of India, and today, Islam is the religion of the majority of the population.
Throughout history, traders have brought the world’s large religions of Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam to this archipelago, deeply influencing this country’s culture and way of life. Yet Indonesia was never conquered by India nor China, until Europeans came and colonized these islands.
Marco Polo was the first European to set foot on Sumatra. Later, in search for the Spice Islands the Portuguese and Spaniards arrived in these islands sailing around the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa. In 1596 the first Dutch vessels anchored at the shores of West Java after a long voyage. Over the next three centuries, the Dutch gradually colonized this archipelago until it became known as the Dutch East Indies.
But revolt against the colonizers soon built up throughout the country. The Indonesian youth, in their Youth Pledge of 1928 vowed together to build “One Country, One Nation and One Language: Indonesia”, regardless of race, religion, language or ethnic background in the territory then known as the Dutch East Indies.
Finally, on 17 August 1945, after the defeat of the Japanese in the Second World War, the Indonesian people declared their Independence through their leaders Soekarno and Hatta. Freedom, however was not easily granted. Only after years of bloody fighting did the Dutch government finally relent, officially recognizing Indonesia’s Independence in 1950.
Jakarta, located on the north coast of western Java is the capital of the Republic of Indonesia. It is the seat of government, and center of business and finance. A large, modern metropolitan city with a population of 9 million people, Jakarta is a melting pot of all different ethnic groups in the archipelago.
Today, after six decades of freedom, Indonesia has become the third largest democracy in the world. Despite facing today’s global financial crisis, the country has managed to show positive economic growth, and is internationally respected for her moderate, tolerant yet religious stance in today’s global conflict among civilizations.