Fossilized remains of Homo erectus, popularly known as the “Java man”, suggest that the Indonesian archipelago was inhabited for approximately two million years.
Austronesians, who make up the majority of the modern population, migrated to Southeast Asia from present-day Taiwan. Around the year 2000 BC, they arrived in Indonesia and while expanding their territories, they confined the native Melanesians to inhabit the easternmost islands of the archipelago.
At the beginning of the 8th century BC, ideal agricultural conditions and the improvement of rice cultivation techniques allowed the emergence of small villages, towns and kingdoms. Indonesia’s strategic position fostered inter-island and international trade.
From the 7th century, the powerful naval kingdom of Srivijaya flourished, as a result of the trade and influences of Hinduism and Buddhism that were imported with it. Between the 8th and 10th centuries, the Sailendra and Mataram dynasties prospered and disappeared, leaving great religious monuments on the island of Java, such as Borobudur (Sailendra) and Prambanan (Mataram). During the 13th century, the Hindu kingdom of Majapahit was founded in the east of the island of Java, and under the rule of Gajah Mada, its influence spread over much of Indonesia, giving rise to a period often referred to as the ” Golden Age ” of Indonesian history.
Although Muslim merchants traveled through Southeast Asia since the early Islamic era, the earliest traces of Muslim populations in Indonesia date back to the 13th century in North Sumatra. Gradually, other Indonesian areas adopted Islam, and since the late 16th century it is the dominant religion in Java and Sumatra.
For the most part, Islamic practices are overlapping and combined with other cultural and religious influences that existed prior to their arrival, which shaped the mainstream of Islam in Indonesia, especially on the island of Java.
The first Europeans arrived in Indonesia in 1512, when Portuguese merchants, led by Francisco Serrão, tried to monopolize the sources of nutmeg, cloves and pepper in the Moluccas. Later, in 1602 the Dutch established the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and it became the dominant European power in the area.
Following bankruptcy, the VOC was formally dissolved in 1800, and the government of the Netherlands established the Dutch East Indies as a nationalized colony.
During most of the colonial period, Dutch control over the archipelago was tenuous outside of some islands and coastal areas; It was until the early 20th century that Dutch rule was extended to what would later become the current limits of Indonesia. Dutch troops were constantly putting down rebellions on and off the island of Java.
The influence of local leaders, such as Prince Diponegoro in central Java, Imam Bonjol in central Sumatra, and Pattimura in the Moluccas; in addition to a bloody war in Aceh that lasted thirty years, they weakened the Dutch and reduced the colonial military forces. Despite deep political and social divisions, during the war of independence the Indonesians joined in their fight for freedom.
Finally, the Japanese invasion and occupation during World War II ended Dutch rule, and encouraged the Indonesian independence movement previously suppressed by the Japanese.
Two days after Japan’s surrender in August 1945, Ahmed Sukarno, an influential nationalist leader, declared independence and was appointed president.
The Netherlands tried to reestablish control over the country, leading to an armed and diplomatic struggle that ended in December 1949, when under international pressure, the Dutch formally recognized the independence of Indonesia (with the exception of the Dutch territory of New Guinea Occidental, which was incorporated after the 1962 [[New York] Agreement and the UN Free Choice Act).
Sukarno adopted anti-imperialist positions, promoted the birth of the Non-Aligned Movement and had the support of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI). The 30 of September of 1965, an attempted coup was countered by the army, who led a violent anti – communist campaign, during which the PKI was attributed to the attempted coup and the party was dissolved.
Between 500,000 and a million people were killed during these clashes. The army chief, General Suharto, supplanted the already weakened Sukarno and in March 1968 he was formally appointed president. The administration of the “new order” was supported by the United States government, and encouraged foreign direct investment in the country, an important factor for economic growth in the three decades that followed.
However, the authoritarian “new order” was widely accused of corruption and violent repression of the political opposition.
Between 1997 and 1998, Indonesia was the country hardest hit by the Asian financial crisis. This increased popular discontent with the “new order” and popular protests increased until Suharto resigned on May 21, 1998. In 1999, East Timor voted to secede from Indonesia, after a 25-year military occupation, which it was marked by international condemnation and brutal repression of the Timorese.
Since Suharto’s resignation, a plan to strengthen democratic processes has led to a regional autonomy program and the first presidential election in 2004, where current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was elected.
Political and economic instability, social unrest, corruption and terrorism have slowed progress. Although relations between different religious and ethnic groups are largely harmonious, discontent among various minorities and violence remain problems in some regions.