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            The strategic position of Indonesia and its waterways between the Indian and Pacific Oceans has led to a fascinating and complex cultural, religious, political and economic history. Evidence of Indonesia's earliest inhabitants include fossils of "Java Man" (Pithecanthropus Erectus), which date back some 500,000 years, discovered near the village of Trinil in East Java.
            Major migration movements to the Indonesian archipelago began about 3000 years ago as the Dongson Culture of Vietnam and southern China spread south, bringing with them new Stone, Bronze and Iron Age cultures as well as the Austronesian language. Their techniques of irrigated rice cultivation are still practiced throughout Indonesia today.
            Indonesia came under the influence of a mighty Indian civilization through the gradual influx of Indian traders in the first century A.D., when great Hindu and Buddhist empires were beginning to emerge. By the seventh century, the powerful Buddhist Kingdom of Sriwijaya was on the rise, and it is thought that during this period the spectacular Borobudur Buddhist Temple was built in Central Java. The thirteenth century saw the dominance of the fabulous Majapahit Hindu empire in East Java, which united the whole of modern-day Indonesia and parts of the Malay peninsula, ruling for two centuries.
            The first recorded attempt at armed invasion of Indonesia is credited to the notorious Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan, who was driven back in 1293. Arab traders and merchants laid the foundations for the gradual spread of Islam to the region, which did not replace Hinduism and Buddhism as the dominant religion until the end of the 16th century. A series of small Moslem kingdoms sprouted up and spread their roots, but none anticipated the strength and persistence of European invasions which followed.
            In 1292, Marco Polo became one of the first Europeans to set foot on the islands, but it wasn't until much later that the Portuguese arrived in pursuit of spices. By 1509 Portuguese had established trading posts in the strategic commercial center of Malacca in the Malay peninsula. Their fortified bases and the inability of their enemies to unify against them allowed the Portuguese to control strategic trade routes from Malacca to Macao, Goa, Mozambique and Angola. Inspired by the success of the Portuguese, the Dutch followed at the turn of the 16th century. They ousted the Portuguese from some of the easternmost islands, coming into conflict with another major European power, Spain, which had focused its colonial interests in Manila.
            The Dutch expanded their control of the entire area throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. The Dutch East Indies, as it was known at this time, fell under British rule for a short period during the Napoleonic Wars of 1811-1816, when Holland was occupied by France, and Dutch power overseas was limited. While under British control the Lt. Governor for Java and its dependencies was Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who was known for his liberal attitude towards the people under colonial rule and his research on the history of Java. With the return of the Dutch in 1816, a period of relative peace was interrupted by a series of long and bloody wars launched by the local people against the Dutch colonial government.
            The Indonesian nationalist and independence movements of the 20th century have their roots in this period. Upper and middle class Indonesians, whose education and contact with Western culture had made them more aware of colonial injustice, began mass movements which eventually drew support from the peasants and urban working classes. The Japanese replaced the Dutch as rulers of Indonesia for a brief period during World War 2. The surrender of the Japanese in the 1945 signaled the end of the second World War in Asia and the start of true independence for Indonesia. With major changes in global consciousness about the concepts of freedom and democracy, Indonesia proclaimed its independence on August 17 of that same year. The returning Dutch bitterly resisted Indonesian nationalist movements and intermittent fighting followed. Under the auspices of the United Nations at the Hague, an agreement was finally reached on December 9, 1949, officially recognizing Indonesia's sovereignty over the former Dutch East Indies.




         Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world. It consists of five major islands and about 30 smaller groups. The total number of islands is more than 17,000 according to the Indonesian Naval Hydro-Oceanographic office. This is more than the known official figure of 13,667. The archipelago is on a crossroad between the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, and bridges two continents, Asia and Australia. This strategic position has always influenced the cultural, social, political, and economic life of the country.
          The territory of the Republic of Indonesia stretches from 608' north latitude to 1115' south latitude, and from 9445' to 14105' east longitude. The Indonesian sea area is four times greater than its land area, which is about 1.9 million sq km. The sea is about 7.9 million sq km (including an exclusive economic zone) and constitutes about 81% of the total area of the country.
          The five main islands are : Sumatra, which is about 473,606 sq km in size; the most fertile and densely populated islands, Java/Madura, 132,107 sq km; Kalimantan, which comprises two-thirds of the islands of Borneo and measures 539,460 sq km; Sulawesi, 189,216 sq km; and Irian Jaya, 421,981 sq km, which is part of the world's second largest island, New Guinea. Indonesia's other islands are smaller in size.
            The archipelago is divided into three groups. The islands of Java, Sumatra, and Kalimantan, and the small islands in between, lie on the Sunda Shelf which begin on the coasts of Malaysia and Indo China, where the sea depth does not exceed 700 feet. Irian Jaya which is part of the islands of New Guinea, and the Aru Islands lie on the Sahul Shelf, which stretches northwards from the Australian coast. Here the sea depth is similar to that of the Sunda Shelf.
            Located between these two shelves is the island group of Nusa Tenggara, Maluku, and Sulawesi, where the sea depth reaches 15,000 feet. Coastal plains have been developed around the islands of Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan and Irian Jaya.
          The land area is generally covered by thick tropical rain forest, where fertile soils are continuously replenished by volcanic eruptions like those on the island of Java.
  The People
          In 1990 Indonesia was ranked as the in the fifth largest population in the world with a total population of 179.5 million people. When this figure increased to 206 million people, as resulted from the 2000 Population Census, the position of Indonesia was becoming the fourth largest population in the world after China, India, and United State of America. The other countries with large population after Indonesia are Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Japan, and Nigeria.
          The average annual population growth during 1980-1990 period was 1.97%, while during 1990-2000 the population growth was 1.49 %. The decrease in the Indonesia's population growth was considered as due to the decreasing fertility and mortality levels in the country.
            The distribution of Indonesia population in the year 2000 was still uneven, which was the same as in 1990. Around 59 percent of total population lived in Java Island, while it was 60 percent in 1990. On the other hand, Maluku and Irian Jaya, and Kalimantan Islands with a total area of four to five times that of Java island inhabited only by around 2 to 5 percent of the total population. It was clear that Java island was the most densely populated area in Indonesia. Based on the result of 2000 Population Census, population density of Java island was around 951 people per square kilometres. The most densely populated province in Java island was DKI Jakarta and West Java. East Java was the province with the lowest population density in Java Island. Population density in Kalimantan Island, Maluku Island and Irian Jaya was very low; around 9 to 20 people per square kilometers.
          Indonesians are very polite people. Handshaking is customary for both men and women on introduction and greeting and smiling is a national characteristic. The use of the left hand to give and receive is taboo. Also crooking your fingers to call someone is considered impolite. Pork is forbidden for Moslem and beef for some Balinese Hindus but they are available at many restaurants and markets.
          The majority (about 85%) of the population follows Islam. Freedom of religion is protected by the Indonesian Constitution, which is defined in the First Principle of the State Philosophy "Pancasila".
          There are about 583 languages and dialects spoken in the archipelago. They normally belong to the different ethnic groups of the population. Some of the distinctly different local languages are Acehnese, Batak, Betawi, Sundanese, Javanese, Sasak, Tetum of Timor, Dayak, Minahasa, Toraja, Buginese, Halmahera, Ambonese, Ceramese, and several Irianese languages. To make the picture even more colorful, these languages are also spoken in different dialects. Bahasa Indonesia is the national language which is akin to Malay, written in Roman script and based on European orthography. In all tourist destination areas English is the number one foreign language.
  Cuisine and Livelihood
            The staple food of most of Indonesia is rice. From other surrounding seas as well as from fresh water fisheries, fish is abundant and of great variety, such as lobsters, oysters, prawns and shrimps, squid, crab, etc. Fish features prominently in the diet as fresh, salted, dried, smoked or a paste. Coconut is found everywhere and besides being produced for cooking oil, its milk the juice from the white meat is an ingredient for many dishes. Spices and hot chili peppers are the essence of most cooking. Each province or area has its own cuisine, which vary in the method of cooking and ingredient.
          Although the industrial sector of the economy is gradually gaining importance as a result of conscientious government policies, Indonesia is still predominantly agrarian. Major agricultural products for domestic consumption and export include rice, corn, cassava, soybeans, timber, rubber, palm-oil and spices. Indonesian agronomists are continuously developing new strains of rice. The Government is actively involved in providing guidance programmed, with impressive results. Similar progress has been made in the field of fisheries.
            The production in the Indonesian waters is estimated to have increased at a rate of 5,4 % annually. Snail production is also growing as an export item to countries in Europe where it is considered a delicacy. Plantations play an important role within the context of agricultural development, as their total area covers approximately 6,6 million hectares of which 83,7% are smallholders. Tobacco planting has been intensified in several areas, the largest estates being in East Java where they cover a total area of 1,000 hectares. Tea is continuously being cultivated. The rejuvenation of coconut plantations proceeds in order to regain Indonesia's prominent pre World War II position in the export of this crop. Rejuvenating rubber estates, the majority of which are located in Sumatra, is also being encouraged. Development in the field of palm-oil has resulted in a steady increase in output of around 15% annually. Indonesia's first cotton growing company was set up in 1978 in South Sulawesi in response to Indonesia's present need for around 350,000 bales annually for its growing textile industry.
            The country is rich in natural resources. While 90% of the population is engaged in agriculture, oil and gas contribute 70% of total export earning and 60% of the government revenues. However, fluctuations in world prices of traditional export commodities have led to a change in recent years in the structure of the economy. Tourism is gaining ground as a more important economic sector and as a foreign exchange earner.
            Indonesia maintains a liberal foreign exchange system and has few restrictions on transfers abroad, and in general freely allows conversions to and from foreign currencies. Bank Indonesia, the Central Bank, maintains the stability of the Indonesian Rupiah and reviews the exchange rate in terms of other currencies on a daily basis. The Rupiah is linked to a basket of currencies of Indonesia's major trading partners. The unitary exchange rate allows for fluctuation. With the objective of a more equitable distribution of development gains, the government gives high priority to expansion in the less developed regions of the country and the creation of employment opportunities for the country 's growing labor force. To attract foreign capital, certain incentives are provided and several sectors are open to foreign investment.
            Indonesia is a tropical country, and the climate is fairly even all year round. There is no such thing as an Autumn or Winter, the year being roughly divided into two distinct seasons, 'wet' and 'dry'. The East Monsoon, from June to September, brings dry weather while the West Monsoon, from December to March, brings rain. The transitional period between gorgeous sun-filled days and occasional thunderstorms. Even in the midst of the wet season temperatures range from 21 degrees (70°F) to 33 degrees Celsius (90°F), except at higher altitudes which can be much cooler. The heaviest rainfalls are usually recorded in December and January. Average humidity is generally between 75% and 100%.
  Art & Culture
            Indonesia is blessed with a raised and diverse mix of traditional cultures and art forms. The basic principles which guide life across this colorful tapestry of life-styles include the concepts of mutual assistance or "gotong royong" and communal meetings and gatherings or "musyawarah" to arrive at a consensus or "mufakat". Derived from the traditions of agriculturally based rural life, this system is still very much in use in community life throughout the country.
            Social life, as well as rites of passage, is steeped in ancient traditions and customs, or "adat" laws, which differ from area to area. "Adat" laws have a binding impact on Indonesian life and have been instrumental in maintaining equal rights for women in the community. Religious influences on communal life vary from island to island and village to village, depending on local history.
          Art forms in Indonesia are not only derived from folklore, as in many other parts of the world. Many were developed in the courts of former kingdoms, as in Bali, where they are integral elements of religious ceremonies. The famous dance dramas of Java and Bali are derived from Hindu mythology and often feature fragments from the Ramayana and Mahabharata Hindu epics.
            From graceful court and temple dance to charming folk dances and boisterous play, the performing arts of Indonesia offer an astounding range of types and styles for the visitor to study or enjoy, reflecting, as they do, the soul and traditions of the various ethnic groups who perform them. Music, dance and drama are very often intertwined, as in the ludruk transvestite theatre of East Java and the lenong folk theatre of Jakarta, both known for their slapstick humor and early Shakespearean simplicity in their stage settings.
            An important form of indigenous theatre is puppetry, of which the most celebrated is the wayang kulit shadow play of Java. These plays are magical and mysterious, and have often been seen as roads to the true heart and soul of Javanese culture. They are performed with leather puppets held by the puppeteer, (dalang) who narrates the story of one of the famous episodes of the Mahabharata or the Ramayana. The play is performed against a white screen, while a lantern in the background casts the shadows of the characters on the screen. Most of the audience sits in front to watch the shadow figures, but it is also possible to sit behind the screen and watch the dalang at work. A traditional performance can last from dusk till dawn, but shorter versions catering to a western sensibility are available in many cities. The puppet theatre has many forms and employs a variety of media.

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