The first known inhabitants of Indonesia, “Java Man” or Homo erectus date back to half a million years ago. Next to reach the archipelago were Homo sapiens, the ancestors of present-day Papuans who arrived in New Guinea and Australia approximately 45,000 years ago. Austronesian peoples, whose descendants currently make up the majority of the population in Indonesia arrived around 2,000BC. Favourable agricultural conditions as well as rice cultivation as early as the eighth century BC allowed for villages and kingdoms to develop. By the first century AD, these settlements were flourishing.
By the seventh century, one of the first Indianised empires, Srivijaya was established on the coast of Sumatra and the straits of Malacca. This area served as an important trading hub that allowed goods to reach many parts of the archipelago. Indian traders began to arrive in Indonesia in the eighth and ninth centuries and with them came the spread of Islam. By the time the Italian explorer Marco Polo arrived in the thirteenth century, many states had already been fully converted to Islam.
As Islam was spreading through some of the Indonesian islands, large Hindu kingdoms on the island of Java were developing. The last and most powerful of these Hindu-Javanese kingdoms, the Majapahit Empire, reached its peak in the fourteenth century. This empire controlled and influenced much of present-day Indonesia. However, rulers on Java’s north coast began to adopt Islam and conquered the Majaphit Empire thus ensuring that Islam would continue to spread making Indonesia the largest Islamic nation in the world.
The Portuguese were some of the first Europeans to reach Indonesia in the sixteenth century. They came in search of spices not only for the flavour, but also because spices like cloves, nutmeg and mace were believed to hold powerful medicinal properties. The Dutch arrived in the seventeenth century essentially ending the Portuguese monopoly on the spice trade. They established the Dutch East India Company and asserted a great deal of authority over the islands through the nineteenth century. It was during the nineteenth century that the Dutch began sugar and coffee cultivation on Java which went on to provide approximately three-quarters of the world’s coffee supply.
After almost three centuries of oppressive colonialism, independence and nationalistic sentiments began to spread throughout the country in the twentieth century. The first to use the term “Indonesia” were young men and women who had experienced a western education provided by the Dutch. By 1928, the idea of being “Indonesian” began to gather a following. The Japanese occupied Indonesia during the Second World War and granted independence on 17 August 1945. However, the Dutch, who were beginning to reoccupy the islands, rejected it. This spawned a four-year guerilla war led by nationalists. Finally, in December 1949, an agreement was reached between the Republic of Indonesia and the Dutch which ended the war and recognized the end of Dutch colonial rule.
For the first two decades after independence, the country was led by Sukarno, an early nationalist. Sukarno was edged out of power by Gen. Suharto in 1967. He went on to rule until 1998 when he was forced to resign due to the tightfisted control he imposed on the country. 2004 saw the first-ever direct presidential elections in Indonesia with Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono being named president (he was re-elected in 2009). Despite terrorist attacks (the bombings in Bali and Jakarta in 2002 and 2005), as well as the threat of natural disasters, today, Indonesia is enjoying a period of stability and tourism is becoming increasingly important with over seven million people visiting in 2011.
Indonesia Travel Information
At Goway we believe that a well-informed traveller is a safer traveller. With this in mind, we have compiled an easy-to-navigate travel information section dedicated to Indonesia.
Learn about the history and culture of Indonesia, the must-try food and drink, and what to pack in your suitcase. Read about Indonesia's nature and wildlife, weather and geography, along with 'Country Quickfacts' compiled by our travel experts. Our globetrotting tips, as well as our visa and health information will help ensure you're properly prepared for a safe and enjoyable trip. The only way you could possibly learn more is by embarking on your journey and discovering Indonesia for yourself. Start exploring… book one of our Indonesia tours today!
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After your Indonesia vacation, consider taking the time to visit other destinations. Goway offers exciting China vacation packages, India tours and Thailand vacation packages plus a comprehensive selection of vacation packages in many other Asian countries.
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