Austronesian people from Taiwan migrated to Indonesia around 2,000 BC. Good agricultural conditions and an ideal sea trading position allowed the country to flourish in the centuries BC, and continued to be important to the 7th century AD. By the end of the 16th century the dominant religion was Islam.
Portuguese traders arrived in 1512, but it was the Dutch who became the dominant European power a century later when they colonised the country as the Dutch East Indies. After World War II, when the country was occupied by the Japanese, there was an armed struggle against Dutch rule, and independence, declared in 1945, was recognised in 1949.
The nationalist leader Sukarno[timeline] was succeeded by General Suharto in 1968 after an attempted coup. Suharto’s authoritarian regime lasted until 1998, when it ended amidst rioting following years of corruption, ethnic unrest and the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98. Indonesia’s first direct Presidential elections in 2004 returned former army general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to power.
There is occasional sectarian violence, and calls for independence from a number of provinces, including Aceh (Sumatra), following the secession of East Timor in 1999. Militant Islamic groups accused of having links with al-Qaeda and responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings which killed 202 people represent another serious challenge.
Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world. It consists of five main islands: Sumatra, Kalimantan (Borneo), Java, Sulawesi and West Papua (Irian Jaya), plus some 30 smaller island groups. From Sumatra in the west to West Papua in the east, this vast archipelago of islands stretches over 3,200 miles (the distance from Ireland to the Caspian Sea); and from northern Kalimantan to Timor, it is more than 1000 miles north-south. Altogether there are around 17,500 islands and about 6,000 of these are inhabited.
Indonesia straddles the equator, where the Indian and Pacific Oceans meet. It shares land borders with Malaysia and Papua New Guinea, and has an area of 742,308 sq miles.
It is mainly made up of coastal lowlands, but the interiors of larger islands are mountainous. Its vast wilderness areas contain the world’s second highest level of biodiversity. There is a danger of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. 220,000 Indonesians died or went missing after the tsunami of 2004.
Natural resources include petroleum, tin, natural gas, nickel, timber, copper fertile soils, coal, gold and silver. 11% of the land is arable.
The country has a tropical, hot and humid climate throughout the year, though in the highlands it is more moderate. In broad terms, the wet season is from November to April and the dry season from May to October, but in mountain areas there is little distinction. Thunderstorms are quite common.
The coastal plains have an average annual temperature of 28C; the inland and mountain base areas average slightly less, at 26C; while the higher mountains have an average of 23C.
Indonesia’s motto is ‘unity though diversity’. It has always been the genius of this great nation that they have managed to stay together even when there are so many opposing forces and tensions.
Pancasila is the official philosophical foundation of the Indonesian state. It is derived from two Sanskrit words, "panca" meaning five, and "sila" meaning principles. It comprises five principles held to be inseparable and interrelated:
There are around 300 ethnic groups, spread out over 600 inhabited islands, each with their own cultural distinctions. Most famous are the Bataks of Sumatra, the Sundanese and Javanese from java, the Dayaks from Kalimantan the Torajas from Sulawesi and the Irianese from Irian Jaya. Each have their own culture and traditions.
Indonesia is the fourth most populous in the world. Around 65% of the population live on the island of Java, which contains the capital Jakarta. Some people see Indonesia in two parts an ‘Inner Indonesia’ (Java, Bali ,Lombok and Madura islands) and an ‘Outer Indonesia’ (all the other islands). The inner part is densely populated and its people by and large are better educated and better off. The outer part is less developed, less polluted and also the source of much of Indonesia’s mineral and natural wealth.
The national language is Indonesian, which is very similar to Malay, the language spoken in nearby Malaysia and by some people in Singapore. Indonesian is the language used throughout the country in business, politics, national media and education and is spoken by almost all Indonesians. Most Indonesians also speak at least one of the country's several hundred local languages, this is often their first language.
Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population. The majority of Christians in Indonesia live in the eastern part of the country. Tensions between Muslims and Christians have arisen in some areas, sometimes turning very violent. Sharia (Islamic) Law is now in force in one Province and in a number of local areas.
A number of traditions, developed down through the years, are still common today. Some examples are:
Food also varies between regions. In general, meals, normally consist of rice, with meat (often fish or chicken) and vegetables. Lots of spices such as chili are used in cooking, and peanut butter sauce and coconut milk are also very popular.
Indonesia is famous for its volcanoes, spices, beautiful beaches and its traditional cloth.
Being the largest and most populated country in South East Asia, it is unsurprising that it has the largest economy in the region. Its economy is market-based, although the government plays an important role, with a number of state owned enterprises and administering prices on basic goods including fuel, rice and electricity. The ecomony has seen significant economic growth since 1987, though was hit hard by the East Asian financial crisis in 1997.
Agricultural products include timber, rubber, rice, palm oil and coffee. Its main industries include textiles, footwear electronic goods, furniture, paper products, petroleum and natural gas, mining, cement, chemical fertilizers, rubber and tourism.
However, despite economic growth, it is estimated than over 80 million Indonesidasn are in poverty living on a dollar a day. Many people in rural areas (especially in the East) are subsistence farmers, whose methods have changed little over the years.
It is possible that Christian merchants from Persia and India visited Indonesia in the 7th Century. The first significant missionary activity involved the Roman Catholic Portuguese in the 16th century. Christianity failed to advance much during the Dutch colonial period. German Lutherans were active in the 19th Century.
During Suharto’s early years a high degree of freedom resulted in tremendous church growth. Another swell in membership followed the attempted coup of 1965, when non-religious people came under suspicion of being Communists
Belief in God is one of the five principles of the Pancasila, the ideological basis of the Republic of Indonesia. Citizens must choose a religion from Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity (Protestant or Catholic).
As the majority religion, Islam enjoys preferential treatment. Christians don’t have the same educational opportunities as Muslims, and there are restrictions on evangelism. During the 1990s militant Muslims attacked Christian churches and schools. Still, Indonesia is Asia’s strongest Christian nation, with a higher than average percentage of Christians.
More on: Religions in Indonesia
PCI partners with three churches:
The Evangelical Christian Church in Halmahera (GMIH) has around 160,000 members in an area that witnessed violence and bloodshed between the Muslim and Christian communities from 1999 to 2003.
The Evangelical Christian Church in Timor (GMIT) is the second largest Protestant denomination with around 1.5 million members in Timor and 13 neighbouring islands.
The Christian Church of Sumba (GKS) has seen constant growth since the 1980's. Around 80% of the 550,000 inhabitants of the island of Sumba are Christians.