Everything you need to know about Indonesia, including customs, culture, history and popular recipes to make.
- Indonesia has the highest concentration of mammals anywhere in the world.
- Orangutans live exclusively in Sumatra and Borneo. They are the only great ape that does not come from Africa.
- The national animal is the Komodo Dragon.
- Indonesia is the number one producer of palm oil, cloves, cinamon, coconut and vanilla (this is evident in the recipes chosen for this country).
Indonesia is a country located in Asia, and is made up of 17,508 islands. Together, this equates to 699,450 square miles, which makes Indonesia the 16th largest country in the world.
8,800 of these islands have names and 900 of them are permanently inhabited. Many of the uninhabited islands do not have names.
The 5 main islands in the country are:
- Java (more than ½ of the population of Indonesia live here)
- West Papua
Indonesia is located where the Indian Ocean meets the Pacific Ocean. It shares land borders with East Timor, Papua New Guinea, and Malaysia.
Indonesia existed on the prehistoric continental shelf called Sundaland. During the Ice Age, this connected all of the islands together, but eventually the ice melted and turned them into islands.
Indonesia is located in a fairly dangerous area, including the center of the Ring of Fire. This area accounts for 75% of the world’s active volcanoes.
It also exists at the convergence point of four tectonic plates, including the continental Eurasian and Indo-Australian plates as well as the oceanic Philippine Sea and Pacific Plates. This means that Indonesia experiences over 1000 earthquakes per year.
The climate in the country tends to be fairly hot and humid. The dry season lasts from May to October, and the wet season is from November to April.
There are about 275 million people living in Indonesia, making it the fourth most populated country in the world after China, India, and the United States. More than half of the population lives on the island of Java. This makes Java the most densely populated island in the world.
In addition to this, four religions are practiced in Indonesia, including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity.
There are 1300 different ethnic groups and over 700 different languages in the country. The national language is Bahasa Indonesia (also known as Indonesian), but most people also speak English and a native language.
About 43% of Indonesians live in rural areas.
One of the oldest remains in history was found in 1891, when the “Java Man” was discovered in Java. He is believed to have lived 500,000 years ago.
Some of the first migratory groups into the country were Austronesians from Taiwan. They brought rice and pottery to the land.
In the 1st to 5th centuries CE, Indonesian rulers started incorporating Indian culture into their culture. This is when Hinduism and Buddhism became popular religions in this area.
The Srivijaya Kingdom in Sumatra ruled for about 600 years, starting in 650 CE and falling in 1377, a few hundred years after the Chola invasion of Srivijaya.
The Sailendra Dynasty existed in Java between 750 and 850 CE, and is best known for constructing the Borobudur.
In the late 1200s the Mongol Emperor of China demanded tribute from Indonesia but his army was driven from the land. The emperor decided to invade and put Raden Wijaya in charge. He allied with the Mongols to defeat the opposition, but eventually turned against the Mongols, and ultimately defeated them.
Raden Wijaya then created the Majapahit Empire and united Indonesia and parts of the Malay Peninsula. This empire ruled for over 200 years.
By 1512, the Portuguese had discovered Indonesia, and the Dutch came quickly after. They created Banten, the first permanent Dutch settlement. Though Indonesia did not cooperate with the new visitors, the spices the Dutch brought back from Indonesia were so exciting and unique that they continued to travel to the country.
They soon took over Jayakarta and named it Batavia (it is now called Jakarta). They also took over the spice islands of Anda and Celebes Island (now known as Sulawesi), which produced cloves.
By the end of the 17th century, the Dutch were major players in the spice trade and created the Dutch East India Company. Over the next few centuries, the Dutch controlled the entire Indonesian archipelago and called it the Dutch East Indies.
There were a few revolts against the Dutch (including the guerilla war between 1825 and 1830) but they were crushed.
It was the (minimal) education of Indonesians that did the Dutch in. In 1927, the Indonesia National Party formed and advocated for Independence from the Dutch. Many other parties similar to this formed over the next few decades.
World War II
During World War II, the Japanese invaded Indonesia and took control. Indonesia welcomed them at first, thinking that they were going to liberate the country from the Dutch. Eventually, it became evident that the Japanese were not there to help Indonesia.
On August 17, 1945, Indonesia declared independence just one week after the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.
The Dutch tried to gain control of Indonesia again now that the war was over, but the Indonesian National Revolution (a war that resulted in the deaths of 100,000 Indonesians) maintained the country’s freedom.
After independence was granted, Indonesia still experienced its fair share of troubles. These troubles continued to grow until 1965 when 6 army generals were killed in an attempted coup and a struggle began that resulted in over 800,000 deaths between 1965 and 1966.
Sukarno lost his leadership and instead General Suharto took over. He was a military dictator, but his anti-communist ideals gained western support. Indonesia briefly had control of East Timor (starting in 1975) but East Timor gained independence again in 2002. By 1998, Suharto resigned from the presidency.
In 2004, the country was hit by earthquakes and tsunamis that killed over 160,000 people.
Indonesia now has the world’s 16th biggest economy. Joko Wiododo is the current president.
Indonesia is known for having a spicy cuisine that combines influences from India, China, Europe, and, of course, local ingredients.
Rice is a very popular staple in the country and can be eaten with almost any meal at any time. Nasi Goreng, a fried rice dish, is the national dish of the country.
Seafood is very important to the country as are coconuts, which is evident in another popular dish, Beef Rendang.
Satay with Peanut Sauce is well-loved as is Sambal, a spicy paste made from red chili peppers.
Hospitality is valued in Indonesia, and guests are always invited to join a meal. Rice is typically served as the center of the plate, and then each dish is eaten alongside the rice. Indonesians tend to eat by hand as opposed to using western utensils, though this is evolving in cities. They will only eat the fingers of the right hand, as the left hand is considered dirty.
Research for this article comes from Geography Now: Indonesia, A Super Quick History of Indonesia, Enchantment of the World: Indonesia by Nel Yomtov, and Cultures of the World: Indonesia by Cavendish Square.