Java (island)

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Map of Java

Java (Indonesian: Jawa) is an island of Indonesia, and the site of its capital city, Jakarta. It is the most populous island in the world; indeed it has a larger population than either the continents of Australia or Antarctica (see the list of islands by population). With an area of 132,000 square km, 114 million inhabitants and 864 people per km, if it were a country it would be the second most densely populated country of the world, except for some very small city-states.




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View of the Puncak area in West Java, overlooking tea plantations

Java is located in a chain of islands with Kalimantan (Borneo) to the north, Sumatra to the northwest, Bali to the east, Borneo to the northeast and Christmas Island to the south. It is the world's 13th largest island.

Java is almost entirely of volcanic origin, and contains no less than thirty-eight mountains of that conical form which indicates their having at one time or other been active volcanoes. See Volcanoes of Java.


Java contains the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta. Popular tourist destinations include the city of Yogyakarta, a massive pyramid-like monument to Buddha known as Borobudur, and Prambanan, the largest Hindu temple in Java.

Java is also the most densely populated island in Indonesia, with nearly 60% of the overall population of the country residing there [1] ( Since the 1970s the Indonesian government has run transmigration programs aimed at resettling the population of Java on other less-populated islands of Indonesia. This program has met with mixed results, and has been behind many instances of ethnic tension and even violence between the native people and the settlers.

The island is divided into 4 provinces, 1 special region* (daerah istimewa), and 1 special capital city district** (daerah khusus ibukota):


The island of Java is also famous for the Java man, a set of fossil remains of Homo erectus found near the Brantas river in East Java. Two million years ago, the rainfall in the Sunda and Digul plateaus were very heavy, and allowed heavy tropical vegetation to thrive. This in turn allowed many prehistoric cultures to emerge, as evidenced in many fossil findings in this region.

Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms

Much evidence of Java's past kingdoms remain, such as the famous Buddhist Borobudur and Hindu Prambanan temples. Indeed, the Javanese culture, and language itself, was heavily influenced by the cultures and languages of the Indian subcontinent. In the sixth and seventh centuries many maritime kingdoms arose in Sumatra and Java which controlled the waters in the Straits of Malacca and flourished with the increasing sea trade between China and India and beyond. During this time, scholars from India and China visited these kingdoms to translate literary and religious texts.

The most prominent of the Hindu kingdoms was the Majapahit kingdom based in Central Java, from where it ruled a large part of what is now western Indonesia. The name of the Majapahit empire is still invoked by contemporary Indonesian leaders to promote unity and the legitimacy of the state. The remnants of the Majapahit kingdom shifted to Bali during the sixteenth century as Muslim kingdoms in the western part of the island gained influence.

Muslim kingdoms and the Dutch colonization

The earliest Muslim evangelists were called the Wali Songo, the nine ambassadors. Several of them were of Chinese origin, leading to speculation of Zheng He's influence on the trade in the Straits of Malacca. Many of their tombs are still well-preserved, and often visited Ziarah for superstitious and religious reasons. Most of the brand of Islam that is adopted in Java is mixed with longstanding indigenous beliefs, and has a decidedly local flavor. For example, the legend of Nyi Roro Kidul was invented as a mix of the superstition common on the southern coast of Java and Islamic influences.

The Dutch East India Company (VOC) established its trading and administrative headquarters in Batavia (now the capital city of Jakarta). This capital, along with other coastal cities such as Semarang and Surabaya, was the focus of Dutch attention during most of the colonial period. The VOC maintained control over the mountainous interior of the island through indigenous client states such as Mataram in central Java.

The nineteenth century saw the Dutch government take over administration of the East Indies from the Dutch East India Company, and in the mid-nineteenth century they implemented the cultuurstelsel and cultuurprocenten policies, which caused widespread famine and poverty. A Dutch author Douwes Dekker wrote a novel Max Havelaar to protest these conditions, and in turn the political and social movement spurned by this protest resulted in the Ethical Policy, by which many Javanese elites were given a chance to earn Dutch education both in Java and in the Netherlands itself. It was from this elite that the most prominent nationalist leaders came. They formed the core of the new government when Indonesia became independent after World War II.

Post independence

With the establishment of Jakarta as the capital, and the Javanese roots of the majority of Indonesian political figures, the island remains political and economically dominant over the rest of the country. While much of rural Java is very poor, the urban areas of Java are among the wealthiest, most highly developed regions in the country. Both presidents Sukarno and Suharto, who together ruled for the first forty-nine years of independence, were from Java.

This political dominance has resulted in resentment on the part of some residents of other islands. The respected Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer once recommended that the Indonesian capital be moved outside the island of Java in order to free the Indonesian nationalist movement of its Java-centric character.


Generally speaking, the three major cultures of Java are the Sundanese culture of West Java, the Central Java culture, and the East Java culture. In western part of Central Java usually named Banyumasan region, cultural mingled happened between Javanese culture and Sundanese culture and its developed to be Banyumasan culture.

In the central Java court cities of Yogyakarta and Surakarta, contemporary kings trace their lineages back to the precolonial Islamic kingdoms that ruled the region, making those places especially strong repositories of classical Javanese culture. Classic arts of Java include gamelan music and wayang puppet shows.

Java was the site of many influential kingdoms in the Southeast Asian region, and as a result many literary works have been written by Javanese authors. These include Ken Arok and Ken Dedes, the story of the orphan who usurped his king and married the queen of the ancient Javanese kingdom, and translations of Ramayana and Mahabarata. Pramoedya Ananta Toer is a famous contemporary Indonesian author, who has written many stories based on his own experiences of having grown up in Java, and takes many elements from Javanese folklore and historical legends.

See also: Culture of Indonesia


In Java, there are 3 main native languages : Javanese language, Sundanese language and Madurese language. Others native languages are : Betawi language, Banyumasan language, Badui, Osing and Tenggerese.


Most Javanese are Muslims, either of the Abangan (nominal) type or orthodox muslims. Small Hindu enclaves are scattered throughout Java, but a large Hindu population prevails along the eastern coast nearest Bali, especially around the town of Banyuwangi. There are also Christian communities, mostly in the major cities, although they are in the minority. Certain rural areas of south-central Java are strongly Catholic. Buddhist communities also exist in the major cities, primarily among the Indonesian Chinese.

Ethnic groups

See also

Further reading

  • JAVA, FACTS AND FANCIES (, by Augusta De Wit, 1905. (a searchable facsimile at the University of Georgia Libraries; DjVu & layered PDF ( format)

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