History of Indonesia

From Academic Kids



Geologically the area of modern Indonesia appeared sometime around the Pleistocene period when it was still linked with the Asian mainland. The area's first known humanlike inhabitant was Java man some 500,000 years ago. The current Indonesian archipelago was formed during the thaw after the latest ice age.

Indian scholars wrote about the Dvipantara or Jawa Dwipa Hindu kingdom in Java and Sumatra around 200 BC. The Taruma kingdom occupied West Jawa around 400. In 425 Buddhism reached the area.

Early empires

By the time of the European Renaissance, the islands of Java and Sumatra had already enjoyed a thousand-year heritage of civilization spanning two major empires.

During the 7th to 14th centuries, the Buddhist kingdom of Srivijaya flourished on Sumatra. Chinese traveller I Ching visited its capital, Palembang, around 670. At its peak, the Srivijaya Empire reached as far as West Java and the Malay Peninsula. Also by the 14th century, the Hindu Kingdom of Majapahit had risen in eastern Java. Gajah Mada, the empire's chief minister from 1331 to 1364, succeeded in gaining allegiance from most of what is now modern Indonesia and much of the Malay archipelago as well. Legacies from Gajah Mada's time include a codification of law and in Javanese culture, exemplified by the epic poem the Ramayana.

Islam arrived in Indonesia sometime during the 12th century and, through assimilation, supplanted Hinduism by the end of the 16th century in Java and Sumatra. Only Bali retained a Hindu majority. In the eastern archipelago, both Christian and Islamic missionaries were active in the 16th and 17th centuries, and, currently, there are large communities of both religions on these islands. The spread of Islam was driven by increasing trade links outside of the archipelago; in general, traders and the royalty of major kingdoms were the first to adopt the new religion. Dominant kingdoms included Mataram in Central Java, and the sultanates of Ternate and Tidore in the Maluku Islands to the east.

Colonial era

Beginning in 1602 the Dutch gradually established themselves as rulers of what is now Indonesia, exploiting the fractionalization of the small kingdoms that had replaced Majapahit. The most notable exception was Portuguese Timor, which remained under Portuguese rule until 1975 when it was invaded and occupied, becoming the Indonesia province of East Timor. The Netherlands controlled Indonesia for almost 350 years, excluding a short period of British rule in part of the islands after the Anglo-Dutch Java War and the period of Japanese occupation during World War II. During their rule the Dutch developed the Dutch East Indies into one of the world's richest colonial possessions.

In the 17th and 18th centuries the Dutch East Indies were not controlled directly by the Dutch government, but by a joint-stock trading company, the Dutch East India Company (in Dutch: Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC). The VOC had been awarded a monopoly on trade and colonial activities in the region by the Dutch parliament in 1602. Its headquarters was in the city of Batavia, present-day Jakarta.

A primary aim of the VOC was the maintenance of its monopoly of the spice trade in the archipelago. It did this through the use and threatened use of violence against the peoples of the spice-producing islands, and against non-Dutch outsiders who attempted to trade with them. For example, when the people of the Banda Islands continued to sell nutmeg to English merchants, the Dutch killed or deported virtually the entire population and repopulated the islands with VOC indentured servants and slaves who worked in the nutmeg groves.

The VOC became intricately involved in the internal politics of Java in this period, and fought in a number of wars involving the leaders of Mataram and Banten (Bantam).

After the VOC went bankrupt at the end of the 18th century and after a short British rule under Thomas Stamford Raffles, the Dutch state took over the VOC possessions in 1816. A Javanese uprising was crushed in the Java War of 1825-1830. After 1830 a system of forced cultivations was introduced on Java, the Cultivation System (in Dutch: cultuurstelsel). This system brought the Dutch and their Indonesian collaborators enormous wealth. The cultivation system was a government monopoly and was abolished in a more liberal period after 1870.

In 1901 the Dutch adopted what they called the Ethical Policy, which included somewhat increased investment in indigenous education, and modest political reforms. Under governor-general J.B. van Heutsz the government extended more direct colonial rule throughout the Dutch East Indies, thereby laying the foundations of today's Indonesian state.

In 1908 the first nationalist movement was formed, Budi Utomo, followed in 1912 by the first nationalist mass movement, Sarekat Islam. The Dutch responded after the First World War with repressive measures. The nationalist leaders came from a small group of young professionals and students, some of whom had been educated in the Netherlands. Many, including Indonesia's first president, Sukarno (1901-70), were imprisoned for political activities.

World War II

In May 1940, early in World War II, the Netherlands was occupied by Nazi Germany. The Dutch East Indies declared a state of siege and in July re-directed exports for Japan to the US and Britain. Negotiations with the Japanese aimed at securing supplies of aviation fuel collapsed in June 1941, and the Japanese started their conquest of Southeast Asia in December of that year. That same month, factions from Sumatra sought Japanese assistance for a revolt against the Dutch wartime government. The last Dutch forces were defeated by Japan in March 1942.

In July 1942, Sukarno accepted Japan's offer to rally the public and form a government also answerable to Japanese military needs. Sukarno, Mohammad Hatta, and Kyai were decorated by the Emperor of Japan in 1943. However, experience of the Japanese occupation of Indonesia varied considerably, depending upon where one lived and one's social position. Those who lived in areas considered important to the war effort experienced torture, sex slavery, arbitrary arrest and execution, and other war crimes. People of Dutch and mixed Dutch-Indonesian descent were particular targets of the Japanese occupation.

In March 1945 Japan organized an Indonesian committee (BPUPKI) on independence. At its first meeting in May, Supomo spoke of national integration and against personal individualism; while Muhammad Yamin suggested that the new nation should claim Sarawak, Sabah, Malaya, Portuguese Timor, and all the pre-war territories of the Dutch East Indies.

On August 9 1945 Sukarno, Hatta, and Radjiman Wediodiningrat were flown to meet Marshal Terauchi in Vietnam. They were told the Japanese forces were collapsing but that Japan intended to announce Indonesian independence on August 24.

Post War

For full coverage, see Indonesian National Revolution

Informed that Japan no longer had the power to such make decisions on August 16, Sukarno read out a brief unilateral "Proklamasi" (Declaration of Independence) on the following day. Word of the proclamation spread by shortwave and flyers while the Indonesian war-time military (PETA), youths, and others rallied to defend Sukarno's residence.

On August 29, 1945 the group appointed Sukarno as President and Mohammad Hatta as Vice-President using a constitution drafted in the days before. The BPUPKI was renamed the KNIP (Central Indonesian National Committee) and became a temporary governing body until elections could be held. This group declared the new government on August 31 and determined that the new Republic of Indonesia would consist of 8 provinces: Sumatra, Borneo, West Java, Central Java, East Java, Sulawesi, Maluku, and Sunda Kecil.

From 1945 to 1949 the Australian maritime unions in sympathy with an independence effort, enforced a total ban on all Dutch shipping throughout the long conflict to deny Dutch authorities access to the shipping, supplies and logistical support required to re-establish colonial control.

Dutch efforts to reestablish complete control met strong resistance. After returning to Java, Dutch forces quickly reoccupied the colonial capital of Batavia (now Jakarta), so the city of Yogyakarta in central Java became the capital of the nationalist forces. On December 27, 1949, after 4 years of warfare and negotiations, Queen Juliana of the Netherlands transferred sovereignty to a federal Indonesian Government. In 1950, Indonesia became the 60th member of the United Nations.


Shortly after hostilities with the Dutch ended in 1949, Indonesia adopted a new constitution providing for a parliamentary system of government in which the executive was chosen by and made responsible to parliament. Parliament was divided among many political parties before and after the country's first nationwide election in 1955, and stable governmental coalitions were difficult to achieve.

The role of Islam in Indonesia became a divisive issue. Sukarno defended a secular state based on Pancasila while some Muslim groups preferred either an Islamic state or a constitution that included preambular provision requiring adherents of Islam to be subject to Islamic law.

Irian Jaya

At the time of independence, the Dutch retained control over the western half of New Guinea, and permitted steps toward self-government and declaration of independence December 1st 1961.

Negotiations with the Dutch on the incorporation of the territory into Indonesia failed, an Indonesian paratroop invasion 18th December preceded armed clashes between Indonesian and Dutch troops in 1961 and 1962. In 1962 the United States pressured the Netherlands into secret talks with Indonesia which in August 1962 produced the New York Agreement, and Indonesia assumed administrative responsibility for Irian Jaya on May 1, 1963. Having rejected United Nations supervision, the Indonesian government conducted an "Act of Free Choice" in Irian Jaya in 1969 in which 1,025 Irianese representatives of local councils were selected and after training in the Indonesian language and warned to vote in favor of Indonesian integration agreed by consensus to remain a part of Indonesia. A subsequent UN General Assembly resolution confirmed the transfer of sovereignty to Indonesia. Opposition to Indonesian administration of Irian Jaya (later known as Papua) gave rise to small-scale guerrilla activity in the years following Jakarta's assumption of control. In the more open atmosphere since 1998, there have been more explicit expressions within Irian Jaya of a desire for independence from Indonesia.

East Timor

From 1596 to 1975, East Timor was a Portuguese colony on the island of Timor known as Portuguese Timor and separated from Australia's north coast by the Timor Sea. As a result of political events in Portugal, Portuguese authorities abruptly withdrew from East Timor in 1975. In local elections in 1975, Fretilin, a party partly led by Marxists, and UDT, a Party aligned with the local elite, emerged as the largest parties, having previously formed an alliance to campaign for independence from Portugal.

On December 7, 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor. Probably Indonesia hoped, that in the unclear situation, it could annex the tiny country of (then) 680.000 people; and indeed, it could do so de facto: it got material and diplomatic support, as well as the necessary armaments from the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. Reasons include oil and gas reserves, a strategic location as well as various trade and cheap labor related interests. In the early years of the occupation, the Indonesian military killed 200.000 people — through murder, forced starvation, and other means. The years of occupation were riddled with massacres, programs of forced sterilization, hunger, and attempts at cultural annihilation. Tens of thousands suffered tremendous hardships to survive and resist the occupation.

On August 30 1999, the people of East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence in a UN-conducted popular consultation. About 99 percent of the eligible population participated; more than three quarters chose independence despite months of systematic terror and intimidation by the Indonesian military and its militia. After the result was announced, the Indonesian military and its militia retaliated by wreaking havoc on the country: murdering some 2,000 East Timorese, displacing two-thirds of the population, raping hundreds of women and girls, and destroying much of the country's infrastructure.

In October 1999, the Indonesian parliament (MPR) revoked the 1976 decree that annexed East Timor, and the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET) assumed responsibility for administering East Timor until became an independent nation in May 2002.


Unsuccessful rebellions on Sumatra, Sulawesi, West Java, and other islands beginning in 1958, plus a failure by the constituent assembly to develop a new constitution, weakened the parliamentary system. Consequently, in 1959, when President Sukarno unilaterally revived the provisional 1945 constitution, which gave broad presidential powers, he met little resistance.

From 1959 to 1965, President Sukarno imposed an authoritarian regime under the label of "Guided Democracy." He also moved Indonesia's foreign policy toward nonalignment, a foreign policy stance supported by other prominent leaders of former colonies who rejected formal alliances with either the Western or Soviet blocs. Under Sukarno's auspices, these leaders gathered in Bandung, West Java, 1955, to lay the groundwork for what became known as the Non-Aligned Movement. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, President Sukarno moved closer to Asian communist states and toward the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in domestic affairs. Though the PKI represented the largest communist party outside the Soviet Union and China, its mass support base never demonstrated an ideological adherence typical of communist parties in other countries.

Sukarno opposed the formation of the Malaysian Federation — he complained that it was a "neo-colonial plot" to advance British commercial interests. This led to battles between Indonesian troops and Malaysian and British soldiers.

September 30th massacre and aftermath

By 1965, the PKI controlled many of the mass civic and cultural organizations that Sukarno had established to mobilize support for his regime and, with Sukarno's acquiescence, embarked on a campaign to establish a "Fifth Column" by arming its supporters. Army leaders resisted this campaign. On September 30, 1965 six senior generals within the military and several other officers were murdered in a coup attempt blamed on palace guards loyal to the PKI. Major General Suharto, the commander of the Army Strategic Reserve, crushed the coup and turned against the PKI. Suharto proceeded to exploit this situation to seize control of the country. The army killed tens of thousands of alleged communists in rural areas. The number of those murdered by 1966 was at least 500,000. The violence was especially brutal in Java and Bali.

Seeing the nationalist Sukarno as a threat to their interests, the West was keen to exploit the situation to its advantage. Suharto's portrayal of events as 'communist carnage' was the official version promoted in the West. Christopher Koch's popular novel The Year of Living Dangerously later helped cement this view. Yet a large body of evidence has since emerged that the killings were encouraged by the US and UK governments. According to a CIA memo, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and President John F. Kennedy had agreed to "liquidate President Sukarno, depending on the situation and available opportunities". In 1990 the American journalist Kathy Kadane revealed the extent of the secret American collaboration with the massacres of 1965-66 that allowed Suharto to seize the Presidency. She interviewed many former US officials and CIA members, who spoke of systematically compiled lists of PKI operatives, which the Americans ticked off as the victims were killed or captured. They worked closely with the British who were keen to protect their interests in Malaysia. Sir Andrew Gilchrist cabled the Foreign Office in London saying: "…a little shooting in Indonesia would be an essential preliminary to effective change". According to Australian historian Harold Crouch, "the PKI had won widespread support not as a revolutionary party, but as an organization defending the interests of the poor within the existing system". It was this popularity, rather than any armed insurgency that alarmed the American government. Like Vietnam in the North, Indonesia might 'go communist'.

In his Year 501 - The Conquest Continues Noam Chomsky writes:

In a 1964 RAND memorandum, [Guy] Pauker expressed his concern that groups backed by the US "would probably lack the ruthlessness that made it possible for the Nazis to suppress the Communist Party of Germany... [These right-wing and military elements] are weaker than the Nazis, not only in numbers and in mass support, but also in unity, discipline, and leadership".
Pauker's pessimism proved unfounded. After an alleged Communist coup attempt on September 30, 1965 and the murder of six Indonesian generals, pro-American General Suharto took charge and launched a bloodbath in which hundreds of thousands of people, mostly landless peasants, were slaughtered. Reflecting on the matter in 1969, Pauker noted that the assassination of the generals "elicited the ruthlessness that I had not anticipated a year earlier and resulted in the death of large numers of Communist cadres."
The scale of the massacre is unknown. The CIA estimates 250,000 killed. The head of the Indonesia state security system later estimated the toll at over half a million; Amnesty International gave the figure of "many more than one million." Whatever the numbers, no one doubts that there was incredible butchery. Seven-hundred-fifty-thousand more were arrested, according to official figures, many of them kept for years under miserable conditions without trial. President Sukarno was overthrown and the military ruled unchallenged. Meanwhile the country was opened to Western exploitation, hindered only by the rapacity of the rulers.

Throughout the 1965-66 period, President Sukarno attempted to restore his political position and shift the country back to its pre-October 1965 position. Although he remained president, in March 1966, Sukarno had to transfer key political and military powers to General Suharto, who by that time had become head of the armed forces. In March 1967, the Provisional People's Consultative Assembly (MPRS) named General Suharto acting president. Sukarno ceased to be a political force and lived under virtual house arrest until his death in 1970.

Suharto Era

In 1968, the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) formally selected Suharto to a full 5-year term as president, and he was re-elected to successive 5-year terms in 1973, 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993, and 1998.

President Suharto proclaimed a "New Order" in Indonesian politics and dramatically shifted foreign and domestic policies away from the course set in Sukarno's final years. The New Order established economic rehabilitation and development as its primary goals and pursued its policies through an administrative structure dominated by the military but with advice from Western-educated economic experts. During his term, these policies, and heavy exploitation of Indonesia's natural resources, produced substantial, if uneven, economic growth in the country. For example, hunger was greatly reduced in the country during the 1970s and 1980s. He also enriched himself, his family, and close associates through widespread corruption.

In mid-1997, Indonesia was afflicted by the Asian financial and economic crisis, accompanied by the worst drought in 50 years and falling prices for oil, gas, and other commodity exports. The rupiah plummeted, inflation soared, and capital flight accelerated. Demonstrators, initially led by students, called for Suharto's resignation. Amidst widespread civil unrest, Suharto resigned on May 21, 1998, 3 months after the MPR had selected him for a seventh term. Suharto's hand-picked Vice President, B. J. Habibie, became Indonesia's third president.

Post-Suharto policies

President Habibie quickly assembled a cabinet. One of its main tasks was to reestablish International Monetary Fund and donor community support for an economic stabilization program. He moved quickly to release political prisoners and lift some controls on freedom of speech and association.

Elections for the national, provincial, and sub-provincial parliaments were held on June 7, 1999. For the national parliament, Parti Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan (PDI-P, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle led by Sukarno's daughter Megawati Sukarnoputri) won 34% of the vote; Golkar (Suharto's party; formerly the only legal party of government) 22%; Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (PPP, United Development Party led by Hamzah Haz) 12%, and Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (PKB, National Awakening Party led by Abdurrahman Wahid) 10%. In October 1999, the People's Consultative Assembly, which consists of the 500-member Parliament plus 200 appointed members, elected Abdurrahman Wahid as President, and Megawati Sukarnoputri as Vice President, for 5-year terms. Wahid named his first Cabinet in early November 1999 and a reshuffled, second Cabinet in August 2000.

President Wahid's government continued to pursue democratization and to encourage renewed economic growth under challenging conditions. In addition to continuing economic malaise, his government faced regional, interethnic, and interreligious conflict, particularly in Aceh, the Moluccas, and Irian Jaya. In West Timor, the problems of displaced East Timorese and violence by pro-Indonesian East Timorese militias caused considerable humanitarian and social problems. An increasingly assertive Parliament frequently challenged President Wahid's policies and prerogatives, contributing to a lively and sometimes rancorous national political debate.

During the People's Consultative Assembly's first annual session in August 2000, President Wahid gave an account of his government's performance. On January 29, 2001 thousands of student protesters stormed parliament grounds and demanded that President Abdurrahman Wahid resign due to alleged involvement in corruption scandals. Under pressure from the Assembly to improve management and coordination within the government, he issued a presidential decree giving Vice President Megawati control over the day-to-day administration of government. Megawati Sukarnoputri assumed the presidency soon after.

In 2004, the largest one-day election in the world and Indonesia's first direct Presidential election was held and was won by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. See: Politics of Indonesia

See also

References and Further Reading

  • Ricklefs, M.C. 2001. A history of modern Indonesia since c.1200. Stanford: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-4480-7
  • Taylor, Jean Gelman. 2003. Indonesia: Peoples and histories. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300097093
  • Schwarz, Adam. 1994. A Nation in Waiting: Indonesia's Search for Stability. 2nd Edition. St Leonards, NSW : Allen & Unwin.
  • Template:Loc

External link

it:Storia dell'Indonesia ms:Sejarah Indonesia nl:Geschiedenis van Indonesi ja:インドネシアの歴史 pt:Histria da Indonsia


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