A short history of Indonesia

Perhaps the Brunei Times is running a series about writing the short histories of different countries in Southeast Asia. Today, it publishes a short history of Indonesia – not particularly accurate, it gives a sense as if there were a series of empires that replaced one another, that Srivijaya was replaced by the Sailendra and the Mataram who in turn were replaced by the Majapahit. In reality, Srivijaya lasted all the way to the 12th century before getting run out of Sumatra by the Majapahit. (See my earlier article about Srivijaya.) The Sailendra empire also had dynastic links with Srivijaya. The article also makes no distinction between the shifts in centres of power between Sumatra (Srivijaya) and Java (Sailendra, Mataram and Majapahit). You might also want to look up the Indonesian timeline featured earlier in this site.

13 July 2007 (Brunei Times) – Perhaps the Brunei Times is running a series about writing the short histories of different countries in Southeast Asia. Today, it publishes a short history of Indonesia – not particularly accurate, it gives a sense as if there were a series of empires that replaced one another, that Srivijaya was replaced by the Sailendra and the Mataram who in turn were replaced by the Majapahit. In reality, Srivijaya lasted all the way to the 12th century before getting run out of Sumatra by the Majapahit. (See my earlier article about Srivijaya.) The Sailendra empire also had dynastic links with Srivijaya. The article also makes no distinction between the shifts in centres of power between Sumatra (Srivijaya) and Java (Sailendra, Mataram and Majapahit). You might also want to look up the Indonesian timeline featured earlier in this site.

Indonesian history

The Dutch began to colonize Indonesia in the early 17th century; the islands were occupied by Japan from 1942 to 1945. Indonesia declared its independence after Japan’s surrender, but it required four years before the Netherlands agreed to relinquish its colony.

Fossilized remains of Homo erectus, popularly known as the “Java Man”, suggest the Indonesian archipelago was inhabited two million to 500,000 years ago.

Austronesian peoplearrived in Indonesia around 2000 BCE, and confined the native Melanesian peoples to the far eastern regions as they expanded.

Ideal agricultural conditions, and the mastering of rice cultivation allowed villages, towns, and small kingdoms to flourish by the first century CE.

Indonesian strategic sea-lane position fostered inter-island and international trade. For example, trade links with both Indian kingdoms and China were established several centuries BCE. Trade has since fundamentally shaped Indonesian history.

From the seventh century CE, the powerful Srivijaya naval kingdom flourished as a result of trade and the influences of Hinduism and Buddhism .

Between the eighth and 10th centuries CE, the agricultural Buddhist Sailendra and Hindu Mataram dynasties thrived and declined in inland Java, leaving grand religious monuments such as Borobudur and Prambanan.

Majapahit kingdom was founded in eastern Java in the late 13th century. Under Gajah Mada, its influence stretched over much of Indonesia. This period is often referred to as a “Golden Age” in Indonesian history.


Books about the history of Indonesia:
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz
Ancient History (The Indonesian Heritage Series) by Indonesian Heritage

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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