Indonesia – Our Planet’s Largest Archipelago – The Ring Of Fire

Indonesia, with over 17,500 islands, a population of more than 250 million, scattered both sides of the equator over a land mass some 2 million square kilometers from Sabang in northern Sumatra to Merauke in Irian Jaya, has from the beginning of time been a region of immense volcanic activity…   Indonesia today has over 400 existing peaks, of which at least 150 are still active...  If you superimpose a map of Indonesia over one of The West, you will find it stretches from the United Kingdom to The Middle East…

There are eight major islands or island groups in this enormous chain…  The largest being Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan (Borneo), Sulawesi (Celebes) and Irian Jaya (the Western half of Papua New Guinea)…  The smaller islands fall into two main groups, the Moluccas to the Northeast, and the Lesser Sunda chain East of Bali.

The first known inhabitant of Indonesia was the so called "Java Man", or Homo erectus, who lived here half a million years ago…  Some 60,000 years ago, the ancestors of the present day Papuans moved eastward through these islands, eventually reaching New Guinea and Australia some 40,000 years ago...  Much later, in about the fourth millennium BC, they were followed by the ancestors of the modern day Malays, Javanese and other Malayo/Polynesian groups who now make up the bulk of Indonesia's population…

Trade contracts with China, India and mainland Asia brought cultural and religious influences to Indonesia…  One of the first Indianized empires, known to us now as Sriwijaya, was located on the coast of Sumatra around the strategic straits of Malacca, serving as the hub of a trading network that reached to many parts of the archipelago more than a thousand years ago… 

On neighboring Java, large kingdoms of the interior erected scores of exquisite religious monuments, such as Borobudur, the largest Buddhist monument in the world…  The last and most powerful of these early Hindu-Javanese kingdoms, the 14th century Majapahit Empire, once controlled and influenced much of what is now known as Indonesia, maintaining contacts with trading outposts as far away as the west coast of Papua New Guinea... 

Indian Muslim traders began spreading Islam in Indonesia in the eighth and ninth centuries...  By the time Marco Polo visited North Sumatra at the end of the 13th century, the first Islamic states were already established there…  Soon afterwards, rulers on Java's north coast adopted the new creed and conquered the Hindu-based Majapahit in the Javanese hinterland...  The faith gradually spread throughout the archipelago, and Indonesia is today the world's largest Islamic nation.

Indonesia's abundant spices first brought Portuguese merchants to the key trading port of Malacca in 1511…  Prized for their flavor, spices such as cloves, nutmeg and mace were also believed to cure everything from the plague to venereal disease, and were literally worth their weight in gold...  The Dutch eventually wrestled control of the spice trades from Portuguese, and the tenacious Dutch East India Company established a spice monopoly which lasted well into the 18th century…  During the 19th century, the Dutch began sugar and coffee cultivation in Java, and were soon providing three-fourths of the world supply of coffee…

By the turn of the 20th century, nationalist stirring, brought about by nearly three centuries of oppressive colonial rule, began to challenge the Dutch presence in Indonesia...  A four year guerilla war led by nationalists against the Dutch on Java after World War II, along with successful diplomatic maneuverings abroad, helped bring about independence...  The Republic of Indonesia, officially proclaimed on August 17th, 1945, gained sovereignty four years later... 

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