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The name ‘Indonesia’ is formed from two Greek words: ‘Indos’ which means ‘Indian,’ and ‘nesos’ which means ‘islands’.  The Indonesian name for Indonesia is ‘Tanah Air Kita’ - Our Land and Water.


The Republic of Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago, and is probably the last territory on earth still not fully explored and mapped.  It is estimated to have about 18,000 islands, of which 6,000 have been named and fewer are inhabited.  Based on these approximations, it would take 48 years in order to spend a day on each island (not factoring transportation time).


Situated between Indochina to the north and Australia to the south, the archipelago stretches east and west along the equator, from the Indian to the Pacific Ocean, for more than 5,000 kilometres (the average length of a continent).

The  coastline, 100,000  kilometres,  is the  longest  in  the  world  and boasts the greatest marine

biodiversity on earth. It is home to 25 percent of the world’s coral reef and 3,500 of the world’s 4,500 reef fish species.

The lush tropical forests of the islands provide refuge for the one-horned rhinoceros (Java); the orangutan (Kalimantan and Sumatera), the only great ape living naturally outside Africa; the giant lizard known as the Komodo dragon (the Lesser Sunda Islands); and the Draco volans (flying dragon), a lizard which glides from trees and other high points. The Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatera was added to the World Heritage List in 2004.


Indonesia’s main islands are Sumatera (473,606 sq km), Sulawesi (189,216 sq km), Papua (421,981 sq km), Kalimantan (539,460 sq km), Java (132,187 sq km), and the small but world-renown island of Bali. Indonesia's region of Papua shares the island of New Guinea with Papua New Guinea; the region of Kalimantan shares the island of Borneo with Malaysia and Brunei. The islands of New Guinea and Borneo are two of the largest islands in the world.


Together, Indonesia’s islands form part of the Ring of Fire which includes about seventy-five percent of all the world's volcanoes. (The rim of the Pacific Basin is ringed with volcanoes, from Alaska through the United States, Mexico and South America, then on to New Zealand and up to Japan and Russia.) Of the 400 volcanoes located in Indonesia, 150 of them are active, about 75 percent of all active volcanoes on the planet.


The eruption of Mount Tambora, on Sumbawa Island, in 1815 was the most powerful volcanic eruption in recorded history. 1816 was known as the “Year Without Summer” because of the global climatic effects of the eruption.


In 1883 the volcanic island of Krakatoa (part of the Indonesian archipelago) was destroyed by a volcanic eruption, causing a tidal wave that killed over thirty thousand people.


On 26 December 2004, volcanic activity off the coast of Sumatera set off an undersea earthquake (between 9.1 and 9.3 on the Richter scale) in the Indian Ocean. Known as the Great Sumatera-Andaman earthquake, it is the second largest earthquake in recorded history, and its duration (between 8 and 10 minutes) is the longest ever recorded. Its vibrations spread across the entire planet, triggering other earthquakes as far away as Alaska and a series of devastating tsunamis along the coasts of most landmasses bordering the Indian Ocean. The enormous waves of the tsunamis, up to 30 metres, inundated coastal communities in eleven countries, causing untold flooding and destruction, and killing more than 225,000 people in Sumatera, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Thailand, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and the east coast of Africa (Kenya and Somalia).


The plight of the many affected people and countries prompted a widespread humanitarian response. In all, the worldwide community donated more than $7 billion in humanitarian aid.


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The island of Java is one of the most important areas for the study of early man.  The Sangiran Early Man Site, on the World Heritage List, is estimated to have been inhabited one and a half million years ago and is home to half of the world's hominid fossils.  In the early 1890s Eugene Dubois discovered a skull and thigh bone of Homo erectus in East Java.  Dubois published his findings of "Java Man" in 1894, claiming that Homo erectus was an ancestor of modern humans.


About five thousand years ago people migrated to Indonesia from other parts of Southeast Asia. Later, people from India moved to the area.  A number of important kingdoms were established: Buddhist, Hindu and Hindu-Buddhist.  In central Java, the rulers of the Sailendra dynasty erected the renown Borobudur Temple, the world’s largest Buddhist monument, between AD 750 and 850.  A few kilometres away, the Sanjayas built the largest Hindu complex on Java, Prambanan Temple, between the eighth and tenth centuries AD.  (The Borobudur and Prambanan temple complexes are on the World Heritage List.)

Marco Polo was one of the first Europeans to visit  Indonesia.  In the  fourteenth century, reports

of his travels led to waves of Indian and Chinese adventurers travelling to Indonesia’s Maluku islands – the fabled “Spice Islands” - in search cloves and nutmeg which grew nowhere else and were worth their weight in gold.  (Indonesia is still one the world's largest producers of cloves and nutmeg.)

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Arab traders looking for the isles where “money grows on trees” introduced Islam, which emerged as the predominant religion of the region.  In the face of Islam, Javanese Hindus evacuated to neighbouring Bali and established the island as the Hindu enclave (as it remains to this day).


In the early sixteenth century the Portuguese arrived, followed by the Dutch.  By the late eighteenth century "Indonesia" was part of the Dutch colonial empire and was known as the Netherlands East Indies. Between 1811 and 1816 (during the Napoleonic Wars) "Indonesia" came under British rule but was returned to the Dutch.


Stories abound of the difficulties the Dutch faced in attempting to gain and maintain control of a vast archipelago inhabited by hundreds of ethnic groups with diverse cultures and languages.  Perhaps most fascinating to Westerners are the stories of Dutch encounters with the Bugis people of southern Sulawesi, Indonesia’s third largest island.  A seafaring people, the fiercely independent Bugis (or Buganese) became famous for the terror they reeked on their European conquerors.  The ruthless “Bugis pirates” cloaked themselves and their ships in black, rendering them completely invisible by night - they dressed in black, painted their faces and hands black, painted their ships black, even painted their sails black.  In the pitch of night they would pull silently alongside Dutch and English trading ships, namely those of the Dutch East India Company or British East India Company, and attack their victims unawares.  The great fear inflicted by these “Bugis pirates” is evidenced by the reports that made their way back to Europe and formed the basis of our “Boogey Man” stories.


During the Second World War Japanese forces invaded the Dutch East Indies (1942). After the War Indonesia declared independence (1945), and Soekarno, the independence leader, became the country's first president.  He was succeeded by President Soeharto.  A Revolution in 1998 led to the resignation of President Soeharto and the establishment of free elections and democracy in Indonesia.


In 1999, East Timor (on the island of Timor), a former Portuguese region with a culture unique to the archipelago, voted for independence.  After much political and military turmoil, the region gained independence in 2002.


Today, Western media often paint unfair and misleading pictures of Indonesia as a “troubled spot.” Quite the opposite, current crime statistics confirm that Indonesia is a much safer place to live than most Western countries.  Indeed, the peaceful nature of the Indonesian people has led to, arguably, the most rapid and least problematic transition to democracy in history.


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With more than 250 million people, Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world (after China, India and the United States).  About half of the population (120 million) live on the island of Java, making it, possibly, the most densely populated region on Earth.  Located in West Java, Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital city, has a population of almost 14 million and is the world’s ninth largest city.




Islam is the official religion of 85 percent of Indonesians; Christians (Protestant and Catholic) represent about ten percent and are scattered throughout the archipelago; combined Hindus and Buddhists account for approximately four percent and live mainly on the islands of Bali and neighbouring Lombok.



Agriculture provides employment for a large percentage of the working population.  Agricultural products include rice, cassava, peanuts, nutmeg, cloves, palm oil, copra, coffee, cocoa, meat and eggs. Indonesia's other main industries are petroleum, natural gas, mining, cement, chemical fertilisers, rubber, plywood, textiles, clothing, footwear and food processing. Tourism is an important industry, especially on the island of Bali.




Traditional sports enjoyed by Indonesians include pencak silat, a form of martial arts; sepak takraw, a ball game involving a rattan ball that must be kept in the air using any part of the body except the hands; and boating.  Indonesians are also fond of football (soccer) and are “fanatical” about badminton (which rarely fails to earn them Olympic gold). Kite flying is extremely popular amongst young children, whose kites can be seen in the dusk sky almost every evening during the dry season – so popular, in fact, that kites merit their own museum (the Kite Museum) in Jakarta.


Internationally, Indonesia is perhaps best known for its surfing and diving.  Boasting the best waves on earth (with Hawaii and South Africa), Indonesia attracts thousands of international surfing competitors each year.  And the coral reefs of the coastline put Indonesia on the top-ten list of diving destinations.




Indonesia has been influenced by many cultures throughout the centuries, and its art forms reflect those influences.  The famous shadow puppet (wayang kulit) shows of Java and Bali display many of the ancient mythological stories of the islands. The well-known Javanese and Balinese dances originated later (during the pre-Muslim era) and are often based on Indonesian versions of the epic Hindu poems, the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Gamelan orchestras, consisting mainly of percussion instruments, accompany shadow puppet shows and traditional dance performances.


Indonesia is famous for wooden carvings, batik and textiles.  Traditional cloth paintings can be seen in the temples and shrines of Bali. Hangings show scenes of stories set out in consecutive boxes, often with themes from the Sanskrit epics.


The most well-known author in Indonesia today is Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who won the Magsaysay Award and was considered for the Nobel Prize in Literature.  Another important figure is the late Chairil Anwar, a poet and member of the Generation 45 group of authors who were active in the Indonesian independence movement.



The official language of Indonesia is Bahasa Indonesia (literally, “the language of Indonesia”).  It is the language that unifies the world’s fourth most populous country – a country comprised of 18,000 islands and inhabited by 350 ethnic groups speaking 750 native languages and dialects. Bahasa Indonesia, a standardised version of Malay, is the sixth most widely spoken language in the world (after Mandarin, English, Hindi, Spanish and Arabic).


With dialect variations, Malay-Indonesian is spoken by as many as 250 million people in the modern states of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.  It is also an important vernacular in the southern provinces of Thailand and among the Malay people of Australia's Cocos Keeling Islands in the Indian Ocean.  It is understood in parts of the Sulu area of the southern Philippines and traces of it are to be found among people of Malay descent in Sri Lanka, South Africa and other places.

From the  ninth  to  the  fourteenth  century,  Malay  was  the  court  language  of  the  Sumateran

empire of Sriwijaya.  It was also the language of the greatest of all medieval Malay states, Malacca.  As a result, Malay became the native tongue of the people living on both sides of the Strait of Malacca that separates Sumatera from the Malay Peninsula.

In the succeeding centuries, the Strait of Malacca became a busy sea thoroughfare.  Countless travellers and traders passed through and came into contact with the Malay language.  They bore the language throughout the islands of Indonesia and, eventually, it became a widely used lingua franca. Later, Muslims and Christians helped spread the language as they used it in the propagation of their faiths.  By the time Indonesia began to fall under the control of the Netherlands in the seventeenth century, Malay was so well entrenched as a lingua franca that the European rulers adapted it as the primary medium of communication between the government and the people (rather than force communication in Dutch).


With anti-colonial sentiments running high in the early twentieth century, it was not easy to see what would define Indonesia as an independent nation. Given the diversity of cultures and native languages of the islands, it was difficult to find what Indonesians had in common.  That common identity would eventually be found by developing a standardised version of Malay to unify the islands, and calling the language Bahasa Indonesia.


In 1928, with the country’s nationalist movement in full swing, the Congress of Young People drafted the famous Young People’s Vow (Sumpah Pemuda) declaring Bahasa Indonesia the pre-eminent language of Indonesia as well as the language of national unity.  When the Indonesian nationalists emerged from the shadow of the Japanese occupation in 1945 to declare an independent republic, the Proclamation of Independence was uttered in Bahasa Indonesia.  Both the state philosophy of Pancasila and the Constitution were framed in Bahasa Indonesia.  The subsequent victory of the Republic in the Revolution (1945-1949) consolidated the prestige of the language and gave its development unstoppable momentum.


Today, Indonesians are overwhelmingly bilingual. In infancy, they learn the native language of their island region and, when they enter school, they learn Bahasa Indonesia – the national language and medium of instruction in educational institutions at all levels throughout the country.  It is rare to meet an Indonesian who is not fluent in her or his native tongue as well as the national language.


In politics, administration and the judiciary Bahasa Indonesia is the sole official language.  It is the language of legislation, political campaigning, national and local government, court proceedings and the military.


Indonesian also dominates as the language of modern business. Needless-to-say, in enterprises that involve expatriate staff or international transactions, English, Japanese, Chinese and other foreign languages are widely used, often side-by-side with Indonesian.


Bahasa Indonesia provides a wonderful opportunity for English speakers wishing to acquire another language.  Unlike other Asian languages, it uses Roman or Latin script; pronunciation is generally straightforward for English speakers (as it is not a tonal language like Chinese); and its lack of complicated grammatical structures (such as verb tenses) make mastery of simple conversation relatively painless.


This article was generously contributed by Rahdian Saepuloh,




Jakarta's earliest history centres on the Port of Sunda Kelapa in the north of the modern city.


In the fifth century, the Port was settled by the Pajajaran Dynasty, the last Hindu Kingdom of West Java (aka "Sunda"), and quickly developed a vibrant sea trade for the realm.


From the 1200s to the early-1500s, Sunda Kelapa was the most important port of the Sunda Kingdom.  It thrived on international spice trade (especially pepper), and was one of the few Indonesian ports that maintained ties to Europe.  Eventually, the Port caught the interest of the seafaring Portuguese, and they set off to Java in the hope of getting involved in the lucrative spice trade.

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In  1522,  the  Portuguese   secured   a   political   and  economic  agreement  with  the  Sunda

Kingdom.  In exchange for military assistance against the threat of the rising Islamic Sultanate of Demak in Central Java, the King of Sunda granted the Portuguese free access to the pepper trade.  The Portuguese (never known for colonising territories) made no attempt to conquer of the Port Town.  They simply remained in the service of the sovereign and made their homes in Sunda Kelapa.

However, the Portuguese foothold in the Town was short-lived.  In 1527, Syarif Hidayat Fatahillah, the saint and leader of the Islamic Sultanate of Demak, attacked the Portuguese and succeeded in conquering Sunda Kelapa.  He renamed it 'Jayakarta," meaning 'victorious town.'


But European interest in the harbour did not end there.


In 1603, the Dutch East India Company (VOC), recognising the potential of the East Indies spice trade, established its first trading post in northwest Java, and, in 1611, established a second post in Jayakarta. 


Shortly after the arrival of the Dutch in the archipelago, the British East India Company also began setting up posts across the region, and this set off a a few years of Anglo-Dutch competition for access to spices.


In 1619, tensions reached a climax when the Jayakartans, backed by the British, besieged the VOC fortress in Jayakarta. The Dutch, seeing a threat to their monopolistic ambitions, retaliated in force.  In May 1619, Jan Pieterszoon Coen,  Governor-General of the VOC, stormed the town with 19 ships, reducing it to ashes.  With this decisive victory, the Dutch drove the Jayakartans out of Sunda Kelapa once-and-for-all, and the British permanently withdrew from all of their Indonesian activities (with the exception of one area in West Java).

Jan Pieterszoon Coen - History of Jakarta

Following the battle, the Dutch took control of the town and built a stronger shoreline for­tress to protect their new possession. They renamed the town, 'Batavia,' after a tribe that once occupied parts of the Netherlands in Roman times, and appointed Jan Pieterszoon as its first Governor.  Batavia became the Capital of the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) - a Dutch colony which would go on to exist for three centuries.


Within the walls of Batavia, the prosperous Dutch built tall houses and canals in an attempt to create an Amsterdam in the tropics. The town's population swelled over the the next few years, boosted by both Indonesians and Chinese eager to take advantage of Batavia's commercial prospects, and, by the early-1700s, Batavia had grown from a town into a city.

By 1740, ethnic unrest in the Chinese quarters had grown to dangerous levels, and, in October of that year, violence broke out on Batavia's streets,

leaving some 5000 Chinese dead.  Within months of the uprising, Chinese inhabitants were moved to Glodok, outside the city walls. Other Batavians, discouraged by severe epidemics which followed between 1735 and 1780, also moved beyond the city walls.  As result of these developments, the city had spread far south of the Port by 1800.

In 1942, after 300 years of colonial rule, the Dutch East Indies abruptly disintegrated when the Japanese entered and occupied the archipelago during World War II.  The Netherlands, Britain and the United States tried to defend the colony against the Japanese Occupation, but the Allied Forces were quickly overwhelmed, and, on 8 March 1942, the Royal Dutch East Indies Army surrendered in Java.

The Japanese immediately began  dismantling  the  Dutch  government structure and interning

Fatahillah Square - History of Jakarta

Dutch citizens.  As they did this, Indonesians were placed in leadership and administrative positions.  As a result, much of the indigenous population of Batavia came to view the Japanese as liberators from the colonial Dutch empire.

The Japanese immediately began dismantling the Dutch government structure and interning Dutch citizens.  As they did this, Indonesians were placed in leadership and administrative positions.  As a result, much of the indigenous population of Batavia came to view the Japanese as liberators from the colonial Dutch empire.


When the Japanese were defeated at the end of World War II and left Indonesia, the nationalist leader, Soekarno, seized the opportunity to take Indonesia to nationhood, and declared Indonesia an independent nation on 17 August 1945.


A four-and-a-half-year struggle ensued as the Dutch attempted to re-establish their colony, but, ultimately, in December 1949, the Netherlands formally recognised Indonesian sovereignty, and Soekarno became the country's first President.


Batavia was renamed 'Jakarta,' and, in 1950, Jakarta became the official Capital of the new Republic.

Over the next four decades, the Capital struggled under the weight of an ever-increasing population of poor migrants, but by the 1990s, under the leadership of Indonesia's second president, Soeharto, Jakarta had established a strong and healthy economy.

That all changed, however, with an Asian economic collapse at the end of 1997. The Capital quickly became a political battleground, with intense protests demanding the resignation of President Soeharto.

​After months of tension, the floodgates opened on 12 May 1998, when the army fired live ammunition into a group of students at Jakarta's Trisakti University leaving four dead.  Jakarta erupted in three days of rioting as thousands took to the streets . . . marking the beginning of Indonesia's transition to democracy.

The next few years would see a rapid succession of leaders, and, in 2004, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) became Indonesia's first directly-elected President.  In 2014, Jakarta's enormously popular governor, Joko Widodo (Jokowi) replaced SBY as Indonesia's second democratic President.

Today, with a population of 14,250,000, Jakarta is the 9th largest city in the world, and is the Capital of the world's 19th largest economy - Indonesia.

Jakarta Skyline - History of Jakarta

This article was generously contributed by Desmond Breau,

Programme Coordinator at LANGUAGE STUDIES INDONESIA.

LANGUAGE STUDIES INDONESIA (LSI) is an international Indonesian School located in Jakarta, Indonesia.

LSI is one of the few Indonesian schools in the world devoted solely to Indonesian learning.

If you have a desire to learn Indonesian, we invite you to contact the LSI Admissions Office, or simply enroll online.




Indonesian Language Lessons in Jakarta for expatriates living in the Capital

Language Immersion Programs for foreign students wishing to 'study abroad' and 'live the language' in Jakarta, and

Indonesian Online Courses in 122 countries worldwide.


Whether you would like to learn Bahasa Indonesia in Jakarta or to study Indonesian online,

the LSI Admissions Office is ready to respond to your needs immediately.

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