Looking in from outside: A foreigner’s perspective of Indonesia (2)

And a welcome back to all readers, you should mainly reading this on my good friend Alaksir’s blog.  This is second in a short series of guest posts that have been on a foreigner’s perspective of Indonesia.  The first post is on a short introduction into which island’s we in the west would know of and why.  For the record, I’m Caoimhín part of Clan Raven Cub, living at present in England.

Sorry to keep you waiting readers, but a busy writing schedule kept this from being edited on time.  Today I thought to move from stories/ideas of the islands to what Indonesia actually is and how it came to be.  That’s a pretty broad topic and I really didn’t know where to begin but I thought to keep on the main issue as a westerner’s view I’d explore the issue for myself and clarify it for anyone who takes the time to read.

As I began with last time, Indonesia is a series of islands in the Pacific – some big, some small.  It stretches from the bottom of the Asian mainland to above Australia, between both the Pacific and the Indian oceans.  If one can picture, or look at the supplied map previously, the Vietnam/Thailand/Malaysian peninsula jutting off Asia just below China and circle the islands below this point to just above Australia, this comprises almost the entirety of Indonesia.  It is a bit unusual, in that it has territory on certain islands that it shares; this multi-island nation does have land borders.  The island of New Guinea is shared with Papa New Guinea; Timor is shared with East Timor, or the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste as it calls itself; Borneo it shares with both the independent nation of Brunei and Malaysia.  Borneo is known by Indonesians as Kalimantan and the Indonesian area only actually borders Malaysia and not Brunei.  In total Indonesia has between 13,667 and 17,058 islands, only about half of these inhabited.  It is the largest and the most inhabited archipelagic country in the world with 9.8 million square kilometres, another 7.9 under water, and with over 230 million inhabitants.  In comparison that’s four times the amount in the UK and three quarters of the population of America.  It has a massive mix of cultures, languages and religions, with Islam predominant.  It has the largest population of Muslims in the world.

SE Asia tectonic mapThe islands that are part of Indonesia began as one single land mass still connected to  the Asian mainland during the Pleistocene period four million years ago.  From around 2 millions years ago with the continual melting of ice most of this land was submerged and so Indonesia began as a series of islands.  Most people should be aware of tectonics – the idea that the great land masses are joined in seven large blocks, for the most part.  Indonesia is not just situated between too oceans but a few of these plates; the Filipino plate, the Pacific plate, the Australian plate and the Eurasian plate.  The manner of interaction between these plates has led to the island formations, submarine trenches and volcanic islands as well as mountainous stretches.

When the Australian plate moved Northwards it slipped below the Eurasian plate – the place in which it drops below exists as a vast underwater trench from the Lesser Islands up to Sumatra.  This clash of plates has also led to the formation of volcanoes all along this ridge.  Most earthquakes come from this region as one plate grinds against the other.  To the east the Pacific plate slips below the Eurasian plate thus creating another volcanic area.  Above is a quick guide to the plates in the region.  Indonesia is part of the Ring of Fire – a larger horseshoe area where 90% of the world’s earthquake and volcanic action takes place, the second largest area is the Alpide Belt which also runs into Indonesia.  The Alpide belt is the origin of the Himalayas growth and will continue to push land upwards in the region – bringing more submerged land in Indonesian to the surface, forming more islands.  Sumatra and Java lie on this belt while New Guinea is situated on the Ring of Fire.

Perhaps the single most famous place from Indonesia follows on from this topic – Krakatau.  In the 1800’s it and Tambora erupted famously.  Not surprisingly in this region a volcano of immense scale erupted, Toba.  What was to happen those 70,000 years ago left its mark across the globe.  Within Sumatra there lies the greatest volcanic lake in the world, comprising of four calderas, the most recent of which being the largest in the world.  This was the site of the super-eruption.  Around 3,000 cubic kilometres of material was blasted from the caldera in the eruption.  A caldera is where the land above a volcano’s magma chamber collapses, following the chamber emptying itself – usually after a large eruption.  In Tambora it has an explosive type of caldera due to high silica content.  This and other flammable minerals leads to an explosion during the shifting and collapse of the roof of the magma chamber.  Toba is thought to have been the biggest explosion in the last twenty five million years classified as Mega-Colossal, bigger even then Yellowstone.  It coated the entire Indian subcontinent in 15cm of ash with Malaysia covered in 9m of ash.  The fallout afterwards lowered the temperature by around 3 degrees C and much acid rain.  As an archaeologist it interests me because of the impact it seems to have made upon human development with theories suggesting that it wiped out most of the human race, dropping our number to ten of thousands.

On a final geographical note Indonesia is equatorial and its seasons are twofold – wet and dry.  It has a monsoonal climate with temperature remaining consistent, Jakarta being between 26 – 30 degrees in the most part.

As ever Wikipedia has helped this article with reference checking and figures but for those of you who know your geology please contribute to the new WikiBook on Indonesian Geology that still needs a lot of work.

And there goes my second post on Indonesia, now that we know our way around Indonesia I plan to introduce the peoples and cultures.  The next post should be about the how they got there in the first place.  If you liked this please leave a comment or drop me a line at clanravencub@live.co.uk.  I’d be particularly interested in seeing what ideas other westerners have of Indonesia and what Indonesians think of our views of their land.

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