Tuesday, May 4, 2010


I will keep the history for this country separate as you will soon see, it is quite long and very interesting. I'll put the fun stuff in another post. :)

First, there are a gazillion islands that make up the vast expanse of Indonesia. I will stick to the big ones for simplicity. Just to give you an idea of how big this country is there are 3 time zones here just like the US, Big! It ranks as the 4th most populated country in the entire world, nearly 260 million people. Hard to believe when the whole bit is comprised of nothing but islands. There are 5 main islands: 1)Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan,Sulawesi and Bali. I will first give you an overview of the country itself and then a little background on the big 5.

Indonesia has a very extensive and quite fascinating history. A lot of it is due to its prime location. The rest is due to its very early beginnings. It is widely believed that the first humanoids "Homo Erectus" to roam the earth lived on Central Java around 500,000 years ago. They apparently reached Java by crossing over from Africa on what used to be land bridges before the earth shifted and formed what we now know as separate continents. Pretty cool, eh? It is unknown what happened to these early humans. Myth has it that they either just died off or were wiped out by the arrival of "Homo Sapiens" years later. The discovery of "Java Man" in 1891 by Berlin-born paleontologist Eugene Dubois on the banks of the Solo River in East Java told the story. Java Man is one of the first ever fossilized humaniods ever discovered that proved Homo Erectus existed before Homo Sapiens arrived. It was the oldest hominid ever found until older human remains were found much later in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya. Some scientists back in the day considered Java Man as an intermediate form of modern day humans and the great apes. The current consensus amongst anthropologists is that the direct ancestors of modern day humans were African populations of Homo Erectus and not of Asian populations of Homo Erectus(i.e. we are all of African decent, even the Asians!) what is that you say? But wait, there is a very interesting twist to this story due to a very recent discovery. In 2003 the remains of a tiny islander dubbed "the hobbit" was discovered on the tiny island of Flores. The indigeneous people of Flores have long told folktales of child-sized, hairy people with flat foreheads that once roamed the island's deep jungles during the times of their distant ancestors. Nobody paid any attention to them until September of 2003 when archeologists made a stunning find,"Mr. Hobbit",while digging through a limestone cave in Liang Bua on the island of Flores. To prove their theory of the existence of a possible new human species they found six more remains of the ancient Shire(hehe)that they would later name "Homo Floresiensis" of course,why not. This was a very critical find as all the theories of human evolution and when and where early humans roamed the earth were now about to be challenged and possibly thrown out with the bath water. Throw in some lab tests and a little carbon dating and voila! Tests would show that the pint-sized hobbits(only 1 meter tall) lived only 18,000 years ago. This would be a major blip on the scale of human evolution that would set the evolutionary theorists into a dizzy! Wait, it gets better. It was concluded that contemporaneously, Homo Sapiens arrived to the islands and being taller, smarter and better at the harsh survival game pushed the little hobbits off the island and into utter extinction. Survival of the fittest at it's best. So what was the outcome of all this stirring in scientifico land you ask? Ok, I'll tell you. :) The evidence, seemed to overwhelmingly indicate that Homo Erectus survived much longer than was previously thought and that previously accepted timelines of Indonesia's evolutionary history would have to be re-examined. But unfortunately, most of the skull and bones hunters huddled up and decided to throw the theory of the Hobbits existence and the Shire out. Better left for science fiction movie-making in the 21st century.

Today, most Indonesians are descendents of Malay people who began migrating around 4000 BC from from Cambodia, Vietnam and southern China. By 700 BC they became skilled farmers and what soon followed was the birth of modern day rice-farming which is more prevalent in Indonesia than anywhere else in South East Asia.

Now this is a whole different giant ball of wax. With the growing prosperity of early kingdoms in Indonesia came the attention of Indian and Chinese merchants salivating at the chance to establish trade routes. So along with silks and spices making their way this vast land also came the dawn of Hinduism and Buddism in Indonesia. These religions quickly established footholds in the archipelago and soon became central to the great kingdoms of the 1st millenium AD. But things would change down the road. Indonesia would do a 180. Faultlines of leadership power across the islands would begin to open up and Hinduism's and Buddism's golden ages would swiftly draw to a close and in would come the rise of Islam to take their place. With the arrival of Islam came the power, reason, and will to oppose the religion of the early kingdoms and uprisings soon unseated the kings practicing these early religions. The last Hindu kingdom was taken down in the 15th century. The remaining followers fled to the island of Bali, the only place in Indonesia where Hinduism continues to flourish leaving Java and the other big islands to the islamic sultans to come. Today Indonesia is the most populous Muslim nation on earth. And believe you me, there are a lot of them here and very visible. Whew!

By the beginning of the 20th century, the Dutch ruled and had brought most of the archipelago under their control. But as with every other great nation's humble beginning's not without revolutionists running amuck looking for their freedom. Dutch rule would be challenged as the Japanese swept through during WWII. After the Japanese departure, soon after WWII, came an opportunity to re-establish themselves as an independent sovereignty. So they declared themselves as such on August 17th, 1945. The Dutch, however, still heavily present had other plans. They were unwilling to relinquish their hold over Indonesia, were supported by the Brits, of course who had entered Indonesia to accept the Japanese surrender. So together they moved quickly to reassert their authority over the country. Four bitter years of Indonesian resistance followed via guerilla warfare. American and UN opposition to the reimposition of colonialism and the mounting toll of Dutch casualties eventually forced the Dutch to pack it up and head home. The Indonesians finally got their hard fought independence and finally hoisted their flag over Jakarta's Freedom Palace on December 27th, 1949. Fastforward to today. Basically Indonesia has been facing the same trials and tribulations of the other Tiger countries I have already mentioned. They are just looking for a better lifestyle for their families and future generations.

This island is the heart and soul of the Indonesian nation. It is the bully of all the islands wielding its financial and political muscle. It is home to more than 50% of the Indonesian population(i.e. very,very,very crowed!) An island of mega cities with it's own share of forests, volcanoes and touristy beaches and towns with fabulous temples and monuments erected everywhere all in the name of Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and, uh I forget the other ones. Oh ya, Bhudda. duh! I will dispense with the local history of the island and just tell you that of all the islands this one is where most of the ever-present political boxing scene takes place, mostly in the capital city of Jakarta.

Lush with forests and jungles, jinormous and intriguing. The island stretches over 2000 km across the equator. Not sure what the math is but I am guessing if you superimposed it on the US it might just measure halfway across. It is not an island for the average tourist. Few paved roads, sweaty hot jungles, small towns or villages with hardly any amenities that you would expect to be pampered with on Bali. You will find amazing volcanic peaks here that rise above tranquil huge crater lakes, long uncrowded white-sand beaches and the biggest draw, world-class surf breaks. Some of the best in the world. It is the 6th largest island in the world that boasts a wealth of resources particularly oil,gas and ofcourse timber. Unfortunately, the rainforests are being desimated at an alarming rate. It is believed that if the logging does not stop that the rain forest could be gone by 2050. And of course no one gives a damn. Same old story I have been telling, only in a different place. Makes me sick!

Kalimantan is affectionately known as the island of Borneo. Roughly two-thirds of the island belongs to Indonesia and the rest(the north side) belongs to the country of Malaysia. So when conversations are of Kalimantan it is usually referred to as Indonesian or Malaysian Borneo. Kalimantan is home to the famous orangutans jungles. Orangutan is Malay for "forest person". They do look the most human don't they? Kalimantan is very similar to Sumatra. It is not densely populated for the same reasons as Sumatra. Very dense sweaty hot forests, jungles with tons of leeches roaming around looking for an unsuspecting victim to suck on for awhile for lunch. Not a place for the Paris Hilton, Jessica Simpson types if you know what I mean. Because of the vastness of the rainforests here there are many villages sprawled out all over. The people who inhabit these villages are called Dayak. There are a couple of big towns but most of this island is remote and uninhabited. This too is a vast resource island that draws miners, loggers and oil-palm planters and harvesters.

This is an island that is directly north of Nusa Tenggarra (another archipelago or cluster of small islands in the south that is comprised mainly of Lombok,Flores and Komodo islands) that are very significant from a tourist perspective. I just don't have the time nor patience to tell ALL of the history of Indonesia. It's just too damn big! I do have some vacationing to do while I am here you know. These blogs take tons of time to put together so unfortunately I have to pick and choose what I want to blog about. The rest will have to be stored in the ole noggin. Uh sorry, small case of writer's cramp. I'm all better now. I took a break :)

Sulawesi is somewhat of a twisted orchid of an island if you were to see it from a google perch. It has four mountainous peninsulas that sprawl haphazardly into the sea. Once known as the Celebes, it has river valleys with jaw-dropping landscapes, evocative cultures, spectacular beaches and arguably the best food overall in Indonesia. It is surrounded be world-class reefs so as you might guess most people go there to dive, dive and dive in pristine underwater canyons, reefs, and caves. So this would be considered the divers island of the whole chain of islands here. It doesn't get any better than this anywhere else in the world! Less commercialized than Java and Bali and more backpackery in nature so it is definitely my kind of island. Unfortunately we were not able to visit Sulawesi because as I said this place is so huge we just did not have enough time to see is all much less a third of it. Oh well, I will just have to visit this island next time I come this way. For sure. :)

1)HINDU INFLUENCE: It’s certain that Bali has been populated since early prehistoric times, but the oldest human artefacts found are 3000-year-old stone tools and earthenware vessels from Cekik. Not much is known of Bali during the period when Indian traders brought Hinduism to the Indonesian archipelago, but the earliest written records are stone inscriptions dating from around the 9th century. By that time, rice was being grown under the complex irrigation system known as subak, and there were precursors of the religious and cultural traditions that can be traced to the present day.

Hindu Java began to spread its influence into Bali during the reign of King Airlangga, from 1019 to 1042. At the age of 16, Airlangga had fled into the forests of western Java when his uncle lost the throne. He gradually gained support, won back the kingdom once ruled by his uncle and went on to become one of Java’s greatest kings. Airlangga’s mother had moved to Bali and remarried shortly after his birth, so when he gained the throne there was an immediate link between Java and Bali. At this time, the courtly Javanese language known as Kawi came into use among the royalty of Bali, and the rock-cut memorials seen at Gunung Kawi (Mt Kawi) near Tampaksiring are a clear architectural link between Bali and 11th-century Java.

After Airlangga’s death, Bali retained its semi-independent status until Kertanagara became king of the Singasari dynasty in Java two centuries later. Kertanagara conquered Bali in 1284, but his power lasted only eight years until he was murdered and his kingdom collapsed. With Java in turmoil, Bali regained its autonomy and the Pejeng dyn­asty, centred near modern-day Ubud, rose to great power. In 1343 Gajah Mada, the legendary chief minister of the Majapahit dynasty, defeated the Pejeng king Dalem Bedaulu and brought Bali back under Javanese influence. Basically a case of I won,you won,I won,you won.....

Although Gajah Mada brought much of the Indonesian archipelago under Majapahit control, Bali was the furthest extent of its power. Here the ‘capital’ moved to Gelgel, near modern-day Semarapura (once known as Klungkung), around the late 14th century, and for the next two centuries this was the base for the ‘king of Bali’, the Dewa Agung. The Majapahit kingdom collapsed into disputing sultanates. However, the Gelgel dynasty in Bali, under Dalem Batur Enggong, extended its power eastwards to the neighbouring island of Lombok and even crossed the strait to Java.

As the Majapahit kingdom fell apart, many of its intelligentsia moved to Bali, including the priest Nirartha, who is credit­ed with introducing many of the complexities of Balinese religion to the island. Artists, dancers, musicians and actors also fled to Bali at this time, and the island experienced an explosion of cultural activities. The final great exodus to Bali took place in 1478.

2)EUROPEAN INFLUENCE: The first Europeans to set foot in Bali were Dutch seafarers in 1597. Not surprising. Setting a tradition that prevails to the present, they fell in love with the island,and when Cornelius Houtman,the ship’s captain,prepared to set sail from Bali, some of his crew refused to leave with him. At that time, Balinese prosperity and artistic activity, at least among the royalty, were at an all-time peak. The king who befriended Houtman had 200 wives,a chariot pulled by two white buffaloes,a pack of 50 dwarfs and a partridge in a pear tree. Geez! Not surprising that the crew all wanted to stay. Maybe they thought they too would have 200 or maybe even 300 wives and a chariot of fire. :) "Go ahead captain, we'll see you when you get back". When the Dutch returned to Indonesia in later years, they were interested in profit and expanding their kingdom, not culture, and so barely gave Bali a second glance.

3)DUTCH CONQUEST: In 1710 the capital of the Gelgel kingdom was shifted to nearby Klungkung but local discontent was growing, lesser rulers were breaking away from Gelgel domination and the Dutch began to move in, using the old policy of divide and conquer. In 1846 the Dutch used Balinese salvage claims over shipwrecks as the pretext to land military forces in northern Bali. In 1894 the Dutch chose to support the Sasaks of Lombok in a rebellion against their Balinese rajah. After some bloody battles, the Balinese were defeated in Lombok, and with northern Bali firmly under Dutch control, southern Bali was not likely to retain its independence for long. Once again, salvaging disputes gave the Dutch the excuse they needed to move in. A Chinese ship was wrecked off Sanur in 1904 and ransacked by the Balinese. The Dutch demanded that the rajah of Badung pay 3000 silver dollars in damages – this was refused. In 1906 Dutch warships appeared at Sanur; Dutch forces landed and, despite Balinese opposition, marched the 5km to the outskirts of Denpasar.

On 20 September 1906, the Dutch mounted a naval bombardment of Denpasar and then commenced their final assault. The three rajahs of Badung (southern Bali) realised that they were outnumbered and outgunned, and that defeat was inevit­able. Surrender and exile, however, was the worst imaginable outcome, so they decided to take the honorable path of a suicidal puputan – a fight to the death.

The Dutch begged the Balinese to surrender rather than make their hopeless stand, but their pleas went unheard and wave after wave of the Balinese nobility marched forward to their deaths. In all, nearly 4000 Bali­nese died in the puputan. Talk about valor and honor at it's highest possible peak.Pretty fascinating,eh? Later, the Dutch marched east towards Tabanan, taking the rajah of Tabanan prisoner, but he committed suicide rather than face the disgrace of exile.

The kingdoms of Karangasem and Gianyar had already capitulated to the Dutch and were allowed to retain some powers, but other kingdoms were defeated and the rulers exiled. Finally, the rajah of Klungkung followed the lead of Badung and once more the Dutch faced a puputan. With this last obstacle disposed of, all of Bali was now under Dutch control and became part of the Dutch East Indies. As fate would have it all of the Dutch efforts would be eventually all in vane and short-lived. As we already know, Dutch rule over Bali and Indonesia fell to the Japanese in WWII. And the rest is history that we already know.


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