The Southeast Asian country of Indonesia is composed of 17,508 islands (6,000 inhabited) and straddles the equator from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. In area, it is more than three times the size of Texas. Indonesia has a hot, humid, tropical climate that is more moderate in the volcanic highlands.
The earliest inhabitants came to the Indonesian island of Java about 2 million years ago. At that time, there was a single landmass from Southeast Asia to what is today Malaysia, Sumatra, Borneo (Kalimantan), and Java. This landmass is referred to as the Sunda shelf. About 2 million years ago, Homo erectus migrated through what is today Malaysia, then Sumatra, and finally Java.
A wave of farmers came to Indonesia from northern Southeast Asia beginning about 5,000 years ago and reached western Indonesia by 3,000 years ago. This migration initiated the extinction of the original anatomically modern inhabitants of the tropical forests of Indonesia, which are the Negrito hunting-and-gathering populations. These indigenous populations are still found in the remote islands of Eastern Indonesia.
The Dutch began to colonize the islands in the early 17th century, and they were later occupied by Japan from 1942 to 1945. Indonesia declared its independence after Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II, but there were 4 years of widespread hostilities by the Dutch before the Netherlands agreed to relinquish its colony.
As of 2004, the population of Indonesia is estimated to be over 238 million people, with the bulk living on the island of Java. Indonesia has the fourth-largest population in the world. Approximately 88% of the population are Muslim, 5% Protestant, 3% Roman Catholic, 2% Hindu, and 2% Buddhist. Indonesia is composed four major ethnic groups. The Javanese compose about 45% of the population, while 14% are Sudanese, 7.5% Madres, 7.5% coastal Malays, and 26% other. Although several thousand languages are spoken, a modified form of Malay called “Bahasa Indonesia” is the official language. After Bahasa, Javanese is the most common language, followed by English and Dutch. At 87.9%, Indonesia has one of the highest literacy rates in the world.
Current issues of concern to Indonesians include alleviating widespread poverty, preventing terrorism, continuing the transition to popularly elected governments after four decades of authoritarianism, implementing reforms in the banking sector, addressing charges of cronyism and corruption, holding the military and police accountable for human rights violations, and resolving armed separatist movements in Acheh and Papua.
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