The term Indonesia was first used by a German geographer in 1884, to describe the islands of the Dutch East Indies. The name comes from the Greek words â€˜indos’ meaning India and â€˜nesos’ meaning islands.
Indonesia is an archipelago of an astounding 17,500 islands. Seven thousand islands are populated. The islands are located off the coast of south east and spread over an area that is approximately 1/8th the circumference of the Earth. Situated in the Equatorial Zone Indonesian islands lie in both the Indian and the Pacific Ocean.
Indonesia with a population of approximately 250 million is the fourth most populous country in the world. The official religion is monotheism, but contact with foreigners in the coastal regions has brought in many different religions. Islam -or forms of Islam- is the most widely practised, followed by Christianity and an amalgamation of Hinduism and Buddhism. The diverse geography of the islands provides natural barriers to cultural diffusion and many ethnic groups have retained their distinctive culture and character.
Jakarta on the island of Java is the capital of Indonesia. The official language is Indonesian, now spoken by most of the population. Indonesian was chosen as it was not associated with any dominant group nor based in any form of social hierarchy. The language has proved to be a unifying factor in this vastly diverse nation.
Indonesia stands at the juncture of three tectonic plates, making it susceptible to earthquakes and volcanic activity. Indonesia has more than 100 active volcanoes and hundreds more that are considered extinct. Mt Merapi erupts frequently causing widespread destruction but at the same time replenishing the soil for the vast rubber plantations. In 1883 Mt Krakatoa destroyed all life on the nearby islands and sent tidal waves all over South East Asia, killing thousands of people. The ash clouds created spectacular sunsets for almost a year.
Indonesia has a rich cultural life embracing a variety of genres in literature, music and dance. Non written traditions of reciting witty or expressive stories as well as recounting religious or historic episodes, to the beat of a drum are widely practised. Contemporary literature has had a bumpy ride as successive governments- starting with the Dutch- have frowned upon its non-conventional stance. Novelist Toer was detained for over 10 years. Nevertheless Jakarta publishes The Word and Horizon, two highly prestigious journals.
Puppet theatre, an art form that recounts tales of the Ramayana and Mahabharata flourishes alongside modern theatre. Modernists have adapted Shakespeare, Beckett, Brecht and other renowned playwrights to suit the Indonesian audiences.
Dance and dance drama is performed in various forms over the islands. It is also a popular tourist attraction.
Indonesia is the place to â€˜shop till you drop’. From the most expensive brands to the least expensive items, Indonesian markets are brimming with goods.
Indonesia has many religious sites that are worth a visit. Most famous are the Borobudur and Prambanan temples, relics of a vanished Hindu Buddhist Era in Indonesian history. Borobudur has been designated a World Heritage Site since 1991. It is one of the world’s best Buddhist sites. Situated on a hill just outside Yogyakarta, the monument rises 35 meters high.
Water sports are popular with tourists in Indonesia. The Indonesian waters hold about 3,000 species of marine life, making Indonesian diving spots popular with divers. Many beaches in Indonesia are ideal for surfing, with something for everyone, from the beginner to the expert. Swimming in Lake Toba, the world’s largest lake in a crater, is a popular tourist attraction.
Indonesia spans two faunal zones. Animals like the rhinoceros, tapir, tiger and elephant are from the Asian animal community, whereas cockatoos, bowerbirds, birds of paradise and some marsupials are examples of Australian fauna.
Indonesia with its vast social and cultural diversity, its unique position at the juncture of three tectonic plates, its dual faunal zones and incredible number of islands is truly one of the most unusual places in the world.