Indonesia Old History

By | January 2, 2023

Indonesia is an independent nation in Southeastern Asia. With the capital city of Jakarta, Indonesia 2020 population is estimated at 273,523,626 according to countryaah. Influences from India early created a Hindu-Buddhist mixed culture in the Indonesian island world. Islam came to the area during the 12th century. In the 18th century, Indonesia became a Dutch colony, which was occupied by Japan during the Second World War. At the end of the war in August 1945, nationalist leader Sukarno proclaimed Indonesia’s independence. But the Dutch returned and war broke out between Sukarnos nationalists and the Netherlands. In 1949 peace was achieved and Indonesia gained its independence with Sukarno as president.

  • Comprehensive guide to and popular abbreviations of Indonesia, covering history, economy, and social conditions.

The oldest traces of human life in the area, including the so-called Java Man, are 1 million to 1.5 million years old. The remains of hunter and gatherer cultures on Borneo and Sulawesi can be dated between 40,000 and 5,000 years back in time. About 3,000 BC, agricultural peoples migrated from China, Taiwan and the Philippines. For Indonesia political system, please check carswers.

At the time of Christ’s birth, there were several small kingdoms that, especially in Java, had developed a high culture. In addition to rice cultivation, they also knew about metalworking and shipping and traded with India and China. The close relations with India led to the emergence of a Hindu-Buddhist mixed culture.

The Kingdom of Shrivijaya on Sumatra developed during the 600s into a local great power like the Javanese Majapahit, which emerged in the late 1200s. During their heyday, these kingdoms controlled large parts of the island world. When Majapahit’s power slowly weakened during the 1400s, Islam, introduced by Arab merchants as early as the 1100-1200s, had established itself on the islands. When the sailor Marco Polo on his way back from China in 1292 stopped at northern Sumatra, he found a completely Muslim city, Perlak. As trade was mostly proceeding along the coasts of Sumatra and Javas, it was there that Islam first gained a foothold.

The first Europeans to establish themselves were the Portuguese, who wanted to have a monopoly on the spice trade and make Asia Christian. They settled on the Moluccas and Timor, but were driven back from the islands for some half a century with the exception of East Timor, which remained Portuguese until 1975 (see East Timor).

Dutch colonial rule

From the beginning of the 17th century, the Dutch succeeded by playing the local kings against each other, acquiring a series of monopolies over the trade of, for example, sugar, rice, opium and fabrics. In 1602, all Dutch business operations were merged under the Dutch East India Company. However, greed, corruption and increased competition drove the company into bankruptcy in 1798. Its holdings were taken over by the Dutch (Dutch) state which wanted to establish a colonial government in Indonesia. The plans were delayed by Napoleon conquering the Netherlands in 1811 and also claiming Java. Now, however, the British took the opportunity to take on Java and appoint Singapore’s founder, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, as its governor.

When Napoleon was finally defeated, the Netherlands regained the colony in 1816. However, the Dutch faced fierce resistance from the local population and war broke out in various places. The so-called Java War of 1825-1830 became the Javanese aristocracy’s last resistance to Dutch rule. The war was led by the national hero Diponegoro and lost by the Javanese. In Bali, a local king and a thousand of his subjects committed suicide rather than submit.

In the middle of the 19th century, the Dutch colonial empire was expanded to include Kalimantan and Sulawesi (formerly Celebes). Papua (formerly Irian Jaya) gained control over the Dutch only after the First World War.

A nationalist movement is created

Under the Dutch government, all higher positions were held by Europeans, while the domestic upper class was placed on lower positions in the administration. From 1830 to 1832 the “cultivation system” was introduced, which forced the peasants to pay high taxes to the colonial power. To cope with the taxes, farmers must grow profitable export crops such as coffee, sugar, indigo, tea, spices and tobacco, instead of rice and other food crops. This led to food shortages and over-utilization of the soil. At the end of the 19th century, the cultivation system gave way to free enterprise, and large plantations were built. Now, an export economy was rapidly developing. With industrialization in the west, Indonesia’s natural rubber and crude oil became increasingly important.

In 1908, Indonesia’s first nationalist party was formed, which was followed by a Muslim party and a Communist party: the latter, however, was banned by the Dutch in the 1920s. In 1927, the 26-year-old military Sukarno founded a new nationalist party (Partai Nasional Indonesia, PNI). It was quickly dissolved by the Dutch. Sukarno was imprisoned and deported to a remote island.

When the Japanese conquered Indonesia during World War II, many Indonesians were initially positive to the occupation, which was seen as a liberation from the hated Dutch government. But the Japanese pursued a brutal occupation policy; the local population was treated ruthlessly and many were forced to join the Japanese army. However, the Indonesians were allowed to start working within the state administration, which strengthened their self-esteem. Nationalist leader Sukarno was released. In addition, Bahasa Indonesia (see Population and Languages) became official language alongside the Japanese.

The Republic of Indonesia is proclaimed

Two days after Japan’s surrender, Sukarno proclaimed Indonesia’s independence on August 17, 1945. However, the Allies chose to return the country to the Netherlands. British forces took over control until now, and the Japanese troops were ordered not to surrender their weapons to the Indonesians.

Fighting broke out between Indonesian nationalists on the one hand and Dutch and British on the other, mainly on Java. The British withdrew in 1946, but the war against the Dutch continued until 1949, when peace was reached through UN negotiations. In December of that year, Indonesia became independent and Indonesia’s United States was formed with Sukarno as president. The Netherlands retained Papua (Irian Jaya) for the time being.

In 1950, the federal constitution was repealed. Indonesia became a Union state in accordance with the nationalists’ slogan – “a country, a language, a people”. A provisional constitution provided for the government to be accountable to a people-elected parliament. President Sukarno’s powers of power were drastically curtailed. However, the parliamentary system led to constant government crises. At the same time, Indonesia was divided by military and Muslim resistance movements. To unify the country, in 1959 Sukarno introduced a system he called “controlled democracy”. A 1945 constitution with strong presidential rule was reintroduced. The only groups with political influence, besides the president, were the army and the Communist Party (Partai Communist Indonesia, PKI), which Sukarno also sought support from, and played against each other.

Sukarno’s time in power

In the 1960s, Indonesia was considered one of the poorest countries in the world. Sukarno ignored the advice of foreign experts and donors, while building expensive monuments and government buildings. Contested land reforms were implemented, where landlords were forced to give land to poor farmers. The Communist Party got more and more voters.

In foreign policy, Sukarno wanted to ally himself with “the new forces in China” against “Western imperialism”. The Soviet Union was Indonesia’s largest aid provider and arms supplier, but relations with China were warmer.

Sukarno saw himself as a revolutionary hero in the fight against colonialism. In 1955, in Bandung, he gathered leaders from other countries who fought for his independence. There, a third path between communism and capitalism was proclaimed. At the same time, the concept of “the Third World” was launched and the alliance-free movement was born.

Elsewhere, Sukarno pursued an aggressive foreign policy. He succeeded, after fighting with the Dutch over Papua (Irian Jaya), to get Indonesia’s supremacy over the area recognized by the UN in 1963. In the same year Malaysia was formed by the former British Malaya and the two states Sabah and Sarawak at Borneo as well as Singapore (which quickly withdrew clock again). Sukarno opposed the new state formation and nationalized British and US companies in Indonesia as punishment for their support to Malaysia. Sukarno saw the federation as an imperialist threat to Indonesia, and in 1963 he launched a brief war against Malaysia. In a famous 1964 speech, he said that “the United States can go to hell with its help”.

The coup attempt and the murder of generals

During Sukarno’s last year in power, the bureaucracy was paralyzed by corruption, inflation was 1,500 percent and the country was close to anarchy. The army was overruled, and it was rumored that it was preparing a coup to prevent the Communists from taking power on the day Sukarno was to retire.

On September 30, 1965, six generals and one colonel were assassinated in a coup attempt. The government succeeded the next day in regaining power through the highest ranking general who survived the coup, Suharto. He had command of the Kostrad elite and now also took control of the army, the navy and the police. Suharto led the attack against the coup makers, who were on an airbase outside Jakarta. After less than 30 hours, and without much resistance, the coup had been shut down.

Although nearly half a century has elapsed, it is still a mystery today who was behind the coup, and what role Suharto played. The army immediately blamed the Communist Party PKI, but later historians believe it was an internal settlement within the armed forces. The fact that the Communist Party did not mobilize its members and that the party had a good relationship with Sukarno suggests this. One of the few coup makers who survived, Colonel Abdul Latief, said in a 1998 interview that he personally informed Suharto that a coup was planned, without Suharto doing anything to prevent it. The coup makers therefore thought they had his support.

Suharto takes over the board

The coup attempt triggered a violent anti-communist reaction. Estimates of how many people were killed vary between 100,000 and one million. Indonesian history writing puts the number at 500,000. The Communist Party, then the world’s third largest, was banned and completely crushed.

The massacres were triggered by the army, but the killing was also carried out by local civilian groups provided by the military with weapons. Muslim organizations played a major role, and the killing sometimes took on the character of jihad, holy war. But even in Hindu Bali, up to 100,000 people were murdered, and Hindu priests urged new victims. Indonesia’s Chinese, suspected of contacts with China and jealous of their relative wealth, were persecuted in many areas. Elsewhere, Christians were the most vulnerable.

Sukarno tried to regain control by distancing himself from the Communists, splitting the military and building new political alliances. However, dissatisfaction with his regime increased, and in 1966 the students demonstrated against the government.

Sukarno became increasingly dependent on Suharto’s support. In March 1966, he authorized Suharto to do whatever was necessary to maintain calm. Suharto used the power of attorney to gradually take over power. A year later, he managed the country’s highest decision-making body (People’s Advisory Assembly, MPR) to expel Sukarno, who was held under house arrest until his death in 1970. Suharto became president as early as 1967, but was formally appointed in March 1968.



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Indonesia Old History