Monday, 2 May 2011
CASE 281 - The History of Indonesia
The history of Indonesia can be said to date back at least half a million years for that is the date ascribe to the hominid fossils found in 1809 by Eugene Dubois near the village of Trinil, East Java. Indonesia’s history, has been profoundly affected by the sea. Major waves of human immigration to the islands occurred as long ago as 3000BC, and continued piecemeal for the best part of 3000 years. It is not known, though exactly where these people came from southern China or the Pacific islands. Certainly they brought with them their language, Austronesian, However, because they arrived in smallish groups and established independently settlements all around the coast, sometimes co-existing with the distant descendants of Java Man, this language rapidly diversified, so that now there are something like 200 different languages, all derived from Austronesian, spoken within Indonesia. However, the national language in Indonesia is Bahasa Indonesia or many foreigners refer to it simply as "bahasa". Bahasa Indonesia is used in formal conversations and understood nationwide. At the same time that people were immigrating to Indonesia, earlier settlement were sailing to other parts of the world in order to trade. The first records of this are probably in the works fo Pliny Elder, whose Historia Naturalis seems to refer to trade between people from Indonesia and the cultures of eastern Africa. It was about this time that Hinduism first came to Indonesia, with the arrival of Indian traders. However, the real impact of Hinduism was to come to Indonesia much later, as a deliberate missionary act by Brahmans, probably in the 5th century, by luck of coincidence some of the basic ideas of Hindusim accorded well with existing Indonesian mountainworship, and a strange hybrid of the two religions emerged. Indonesia’s major trading partner by this time was southern China, thus Buddhist influences also began to play a part.
Until perhaps as late as the 7th century the peoples of Indonesia still retained their multiplicity of comparatively small communities, trading and sometimes fighting with each other. By then, however, a major Buddhist kingdom, Sriwijaya, had established itself with its centre probably just to the west of modern Palembang, in Sumatra. It seems the rulers of Srivijaya had considerable wealth as a result of both an extensive trade network and great industry in the region. At the end of the 7th century Sriwijaya moved to conquer all the smaller communities along the northern coast of Sumatra and thereby snatched a monopoly of the lucrative trade with China. The Maharajahs made various treaties with the natives of smaller islands in the region so that merchant ships could pass unmolested. In this way, the kingdom survived until the10th century, it being convenient for the Chinese to deal with only one centre. However, the Chinese then began trading with local production centres elsewhere in the region, and there was little Sriwijaya could do to stop them. The kingdom may have dragged on until sometime in the 14th century, but by then its power was a mere husk.
Meanwhile, from about the 8th century, central Java had been ruled by the Sailendra princes. Their small kingdom was argriculturally rich, and they were able to spend lavishly on the erection of religious monuments. The vast sanctuary and burial edifice of Borobudur was built over some 50 years from the end of the 8th century onwards. The Temple to Siva at Prambanan began to be constructed at about the same time that Borobudur was completed, although its builder were not the Sailendras. However, something seems to have happened at about the start of the 10th century, for there was a sudden cessation in the production of monuments, inscriptions and other artefacts from central Java.
In 1268, the Javaneses King Kertanagara came to the throne, and within a few years he extended his kingdom to include southern Sumatra’s ancient kingdom of Malayu. He was overthrown and killed in 1292, but not before he stupidly sent the envoy of Kublai Khan home with his nose cut off and ‘No’ tattoo on his forehead. By the time a punitive Mongol expedition arrived in Java, the usurper himself had been despatched by Kertanagara’s son-in-law Kertarajasa, who used wile to repel the threat from overseas, then set up his new capital at Majaphit. Kertarajasa and his successors gradually established dominance over most of today’s Indonesia as well as parts of Malaysia.
In the 11th century, traders brought Islam to the islands of the archipelago. Just as the Indonesian had earlier adapted Buddhism to their own needs and beliefs, so they accepted Islam very much on their own terms. However, there was no centre of Indonesian Islamic culture, this scatteredness influence provide a major weakness when the Dutch arrived.
The Dutch were not the first Europeans to occupy Indonesia, the Portuguese and British had been here before them, but with little effect. From 1602 to 1799, the country was ruled by the Dutch East India Company. In the latter year the ailing company was wound up by the Dutch Government, its finances deteriorating largely because Indonesia itself was now too mature a nation to suffer colonialism any longer, and was establishing illicit trading links of its own that subverted the Dutch East India Company. Despite rebellions, Indonesia remained a Dutch colony until 1942. The Japanese occupied the islands from 1942 - 1945 before the Dutch returned to claims their colony however fierce resistance ensued and at the end of 1949 the Ducth conceded sovereignty in all Indonesia except West Irian. In 1956 the last ties with the Netherlands were severed.
It was in 1956 that Sukarno introduced his concept of Guided Democracy, which involved the rejection of links with the West. One of the main consequences was a rapid decline into economic chaos. Irian Jaya joined Indonesia in 1963. An attempted communist coup in 1965 was suppressed with uncommon brutality, a campaign of extirpation that was continued even more ruthlessly by the authoritarian right-wing regime of General Raden Suharto, which overthrew Sukarno in 1966. Suharto also ended the confrontation with Malaysia that had persisted through the Sukarno years, took Indonesia back into the United Nations, came to an accomodation with Papua New Guinea, and in 1975 invaded East Timor. This occupation has led to considerable loss of life and Indonesia’s claims to the region are still unrecognised by the United Nations.