A Brief History of Indonesia: Sultans, Spices, and Tsunamis, Tim Hannigan

Last year, I made it one of my goals for 2015 to read 60 books. I’m happy to say that I achieved that goal earlier this week, a whole month and a half early! I want to keep reading through the end of the year. By January 1st, I’ll have a new goal in mind for 2016! Thanks to all who read my reviews; you’re the real MVPs here.

In 2013, I made a trek out to Indonesia. From my experiences there, I have been fascinated with the largest nation in Southeast Asia ever since. A couple of factors make it a really unique nation: 1) it’s an archipelago, which means it’s made up of a multitude of islands. There aren’t even accurate counts of how many islands there are so that plays in a huge factor. 2) it is the world’s largest Muslim nation, which is interesting because it’s outside of the Middle East which was the genesis of Islam (you’d just think that the largest Muslim nation would be in that area). 3) the climate grows luxury items, such as different spices and coffee, which attracted the colonizing Western European nations. This brought them under the rule of the Dutch very early in their history.

All of this makes for a really interesting read. Early on, I was attracted to the religious history of Indonesia. Obviously, Islam came about around 700 A.D., but Indonesia was actually Buddhist/Hindu for the greater part of their earliest history. When missionary-type Muslims came to Indonesia in the early 7-800’s, Islam spread like wildfire. Except to certain outlying islands, such as Bali (which continues to be Hindu dominant even today). This created a Sultan, who would rule cities or areas, or even islands. That is, until the Dutch came and colonized the island chain. The Dutch sent an expedition to Indonesia and came back with spices like cloves and coffee which they sold for a small fortune in the Netherlands. With interest piqued, hoards of expedition started to set off towards the archipelago with money signs for eyes. What happened after was a colonization of Indonesia. The Dutch set up the East India Company to regulate and rule over the native peoples. Further, a group of men ruled the VOC (it’s the initials for the East India Company in Dutch) and in turn, the island chain.

Rebellion often played a part in Indonesia’s history, as is the case with any subordinate peoples. The VOC crumbled in 1800 and for 20 years, the British ruled Indonesia before relegating it back to the Dutch. From 1825-1830, there was a civil war on the island of Java. The fall out of this was an economic platitude called the “cultivation system”, whereby peasants were forced to work on government regulated farms. All of this was the beginning of a nationalization movement in the early 20th century and eventually autonomy from the Dutch Hegemony.

The 20th century was turbulent for Indonesia. The 1920’s produced massive wealth as seen in other areas of the world. Of course, the global depression and stock market crashed affected Indonesia in a negative way. Infrastructure had been built in those full years, and after the depression many skyscrapers in Jakarta remained empty and uncompleted. Indonesia did not come out of World War II unscathed either. The Japanese took control of Java and therefore the entire country in about 20 hours. The Japanese sent millions to camps. After their eventual surrender, certain nationalists saw this as an opportunity to declare their freedom from the Dutch. In 1945, Indonesia became it’s own nation for the first time since pre-colonial days.

The beginnings of democracy where not as smooth as everyone might have hoped for the up and coming nation. But, as the nation came into the 21st century, there is a lot to be positive for. The economy is flourishing and corruption is being weeded out (although slower than most people would like). It will be interesting to see what a powerhouse this nation will become in the coming years.

Leave a reply:

Your email address will not be published.

Site Footer