Archaeological traces show that Indonesia was one of the first places on earth where homo sapiens lived. The current population is predominantly descended from immigrants from Malaya, who around the year 400 had developed kingdoms in Java (Jawa) and Sumatra (Sumatera) with cultural and religious influence from India. The heavily centralized kingdoms were based on the production of rice. The highlight of Indo-Indonesian civilization was reached in the 15th century with the kingdom of Mojopahit stretching across Java, Bali, Sumatra and Borneo. It was also commercially and culturally linked to China.
From the late 13th century, an Islamization process was carried out in the archipelago. Unlike Christianity, it was not implemented by Arab conquerors, but because Islam was attractive as an equality-oriented belief that was simple and adaptable to local conditions. The Arab traders brought Indonesian spices to Europe, thus tempting the European colonists.
1511 European colonization
In 1511 the first Portuguese arrived in Malacca. In 1521, the Spaniards arrived in the Moluccas, and in 1595 private Dutch interests organized the first expedition to the archipelago. The Netherlands had just detached itself from Spain and sought to gain its own access to spices. In 1602, various Dutch trading companies formed the East India Trade Company, which not only granted the government a monopoly on trade with the region, but also a colonial mandate. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Indonesia.
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Indonesia was the center of rivalry between Spaniards and Portuguese, Dutch and English who each set up their own trading company. It was these companies that introduced the coffee and sugar export crops on the islands. These crops produced a tremendous economic return, but at the same time displaced the local economic and social structures that had hitherto been respected. The consequence was a series of anti-colonial revolts.
During the 18th century, all of Java eventually came under Dutch rule. The East India Company was dissolved in 1799 and all its interests were taken over by the Dutch state. After a shorter English intermezzo (1811-16), in 1824, England and the Netherlands divided the area between them so that England gained control of the Malay Peninsula (later Malaysia) and the Netherlands gained control of the islands. Later in the century Borneo was similarly divided.
The colonial government now initiated a more intensive exploitation of the country’s natural resources and manpower. In 1830-70, the farmers of Java were required to surrender part of their land for the cultivation of export products to the Dutch state – especially sugar and coffee. At the same time, this policy led to an extensive expansion of the colony administration. The Dutch aimed for the development of an indirect regime in which the aristocracy of the Indonesian small states – which had traditionally had their own bureaucracy – was incorporated into the colony administration to gain a number of special rights that strengthened their traditional authority.
Forced cultivation was abandoned in 1870 and the doors opened for private capitalist investment. The result was considerable economic growth. In northern Sumatra and especially Java, a large-scale plantation operation was developed, with sugar, coffee, tea, tobacco and rubber as the main products. Forestry and tin production also saw a strong recovery. At the same time, the Netherlands decided to submit to the whole country – including through bloody wars. Worst was the war against the Sultanate of Aceh on North Sumatra, which it took 30 years (1873-1903) to defeat.
After the year 1900, the Dutch state initiated a number of development projects in the country. The road network, the health system and the school system were expanded. In addition, members of the Indonesian elite gained access to European education. The goal was to enable them to meet the increasingly advanced requirements of the colony administration and to bind them culturally to the Netherlands. But the racial divide in the colony was preserved: the political power and the right to conduct export production and foreign trade were reserved to the whites.