Looking in from outside: A foreigner’s perspective of Indonesia (3, final)

And a final shout out to all readers, you should mainly reading this on my good friend Alaksir’s blog.  This is the final, for now, 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 in Indonesia and why.  The second post is about the formation of the island’s themselves.  I’m Caoimhín part of Clan Raven Cub, living at present in England.

The last post described the formation of the Indonesian islands and now I will take you on the journey of how they became populated and the rough outlines of how the peoples on the islands of Indonesia are who they are today.

The first steps of man on the Indonesian islands is with the famous fall of Java man, so named for the island.  True name homo-erectus it seems to have shared the islands with its diminutive cousin Flores Man up until 10,000 years ago.  General settling of the islands spread upwards in a migration spreading from Australia.  In time rice cultivation, bronze technologies and weaving methods allowed for the evolution of small urban centres and eventual kingdoms.

The next great shift in culture was with the advent of the Hindu-Buddhist cultures, first noted in Sanskrit at 200 BC.  This earliest kingdom was known as the Jawa Dwipa and was succeeded by other kingdoms within the same cultural mode.  The difference was more one of who was ruling rather than how.  Of all these kingdoms one stands out, the Srivijaya, a Malay kingdom that centred on Sumatra.  Its kingdom operated in a federal state manner as opposed to a centralised government.  Following a series of heavy raids led to its decline within the 11th century.  And in 1414 the last prince converted to Islam and founded the Sultanate of Malacca.

North Sumatra shows the earliest evidence of Islamic spread.  The spread of Islam was made easy due to the royalty and nobilities conversion and spreading this downwards through their people.  Much the same way in which Christianity was spread through Europe – many traders spreading the word but the conversions mainly occurring due to state-sponsored campaign.  The first Javanese Sultanate was that of Demak Bintoro at the end of the fifteenth century.

The Portuguese were the first of the European colonial powers to seek out Indonesia beginning at the start of the sixteenth century both to control the Spice trade and spread the power of the Catholic church.  Their base was at Maluku and though they extended their power with forts and outposts they were forced back by the indigenous peoples and the Dutch.  The biggest impact the Portuguese had was on the lasting effect of Christianity which can still be found today.

The VOC, a Dutch trading company awarded the state monopoly in 1602, set about civilising Indonesia and while in large part they did not use methods differing from the earlier attempts they did bring much greater organisation, exploiting various local disputes to strengthen their position and their capital on Java in the city of Batavia, present day Jakarta; which they founded in 1619, built upon the older city of Jayakarta.  From 1800 the VOC was dissolved in bankruptcy, so the state took over its assets, after a brief period of British rule.  Following the crushing of the Java War the Dutch brought about indentured labour and enforced farming policies that were only repealed in the late nineteenth century.  However the full expansion of the Dutch colonies only came about at the turn of the twentieth century.

Indonesia itself is a modern state, and like so many others, a modern idea birthed at the turning point for politics of the twentieth century, the 1920’s.  In 1908 the party Budi Utomo was formed.  While this was the first nationalist movement to be formed, particularly  by  natives, its important to note its exclusivity to scholars and the upper class.  Whereas in 1912 the concept of Nationalism has spread rapidly within general culture until the middle classes formed the Sarekat Dagan Islam.  Following World War I the Dutch colonial masters put down the growing movement with vigorous repressive measures.  The next big change was driven by exiled Dutch socialists and the founding of Partai Komunis Indonesia, the Communist Party.  One must remember this was in 1924, very early for world Communism.  The Dutch was still repressing change very strongly and so support grew quickly. When World War II broke out the nationalist wings called upon Japan for support, which they happily gave, overthrowing Dutch rule.  What followed after was a varied experience – for some it was a time of bitter Japanese occupation for others the first taste of free Indonesian air.  Many Indonesians, particularly Dutch or of Dutch lineage were very badly treated.

A committee organized by the Japanese in 1945 drafted the much-amended modern constitution and following Japanese surrender Indonesia declared itself independent on 17 August 1945 with Sukarno as president.  The two failings super-powers of the day Britain and the Dutch attempted to re-establish, by force, Dutch rule.  The British withdrew after the initial attempt but the Dutch continued their assault until 1949.  The combined dead and missing within the region from the effort was around 24,000 bringing Ally causalities higher after the war then during for the Asian theatre.  When the Dutch finally bowed out it was to a federal structure but in 1950 the final states were dissolved and one Republic of Indonesia was proclaimed.

And that’s it for now folks.  I would love to continue exploring Indonesia and plan to visit some point soon to see exactly how accurate my impressions of Indonesia are.  I have really enjoyed guesting on this blog and I hope that if time permits I will do so again in the not so distant future.  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.  And please do check our site out for other varied topics that might interest you.

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