The Republic of Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world. Of its more than 17,000 islands, only around 6,000 islands are inhabited. With over 238 million inhabitants, Indonesia is the world’s fourth-most populated country. All in all, there are more than 757 languages spoken in Indonesia.
More than half of the Indonesian people live on the island of Java. Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, is situated in Java and is home to around 20 million inhabitants.
Indonesia shares its borders with Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and Malaysia. Other neighboring countries include Singapore, Philippines, Australia, and the Indian territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Consequently, Indonesia is located in Oceania as well as in Southeast Asia. The largest Indonesian islands are Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan (shared with Brunei and Malaysia), Irian Jaya (West Papua), and Sulawesi.
Indonesia consists of 33 provinces. Each province has its own political legislature and governor. The provinces of Aceh, Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Papua, and West Papua were granted special status from the central government and have a higher degree of autonomy.
Indonesian history has been influenced by foreign powers who were mostly attracted by its natural resources. Muslim traders brought with them Islam, while Christianity was spread by Europeans. During the so-called ‘Age of Discovery’, relentless battles were held to gain control of the spice trade which was centered around the Moluccan Islands. Different players were keen on monopolizing their own position, thus keeping or gaining an influential role as trading powers.
Following three and a half centuries of Dutch colonialism, Indonesia gained independence after World War II.
Indonesia has been facing many turbulent challenges ever since. Corruption, separatism, religious and ethnic conflicts, terrorist attacks, an intricate democratization process, and erratic economic fluctuations have been some of the most defiant issues faced by the Indonesian people. In addition, the Indonesia is exposed to frequent natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, and volcanic eruptions.
While religious freedom is stipulated in the Indonesian constitution, the government officially recognizes only six religions: Islam, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. Although not an Islamic state, Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation, with 86.1% of Indonesians belonging to the Islamic faith according to the year 2000 census.
Indonesia offers vast areas of wilderness and rainforest which boast the world’s second highest level of biodiversity.
The ‘Wallace line’ is a biological border that divides Indonesian flora and fauna into an Asian and an Australian part. It runs between Bali and Kalimantan on one side, and Lombok and Sulawesi on the other. Besides having a rich flora and fauna above the ground, Indonesia is also part of an underwater paradise: stretching over the waters of Malaysia, East Timor, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands, the so-called ‘Coral Triangle’ is – according to WWF data – home to about 75% of all known coral species, turtles, dolphins, whales, sharks, and rays, as well as more than 3,000 other species of fish.
The country is also rich in various natural resources. However, the exploitation of these is not always managed in a sustainable way, and major parts of the profit gained from natural resources end up in the hands of only a few beneficiaries.
The climate is mostly humid and tropical. Average temperatures range between 25°C and 27°C, with only little variation throughout the year.
Cultural and ethnic groups
Across its numerous islands, Indonesia is home to 300 ethnicities, each with their own cultural identities developed over centuries. The Javanese are the largest politically and culturally dominant ethnic group.
Influences from outside – e.g. India, Arabia, China, Europe – have contributed to Indonesia’s ethnic, linguistic, and religious wealth. This multiculturalism is well-expressed in Indonesian arts: traditional Javanese and Balinese dances, for example, contain elements of Hindu culture and mythology, as do wayang kulit (shadow puppet performances); textiles such as batik, ikat, and songket weaving are created across Indonesia in styles that vary from region to region. Indonesian architecture was also inspired by outside influences, including, Indian, Arab, Chinese, European elements.
Indonesia has been developing a shared identity defined by a national language, ethnic diversity, religious pluralism within a predominantly Muslim population, and a history of colonialism, including the rebellion against it. Indonesia’s national slogan, ‘Bhinneka Tunggal Ika’ (‘Unity in Diversity’ literally ‘many, yet one’ articulates these aspirations that shaped the country.