09 September 2012

A Brief History Of Indonesia and Its Cultural Origins

At a time when most of Indonesia was still attached to the rest of Asia, and Europe was under ice, Java was one of the first places in the world that was inhabited by man. Fossils found in 1891 along the Solo River in East Java indicated that Homo Erectus had been an ape-like man, who had walked upright and lived in Indonesia almost a million years previously. Homo Erectus initially had a nomadic existence but gradually became more social and established settled communities. Over  a period of time these communities planted and harvested crops rather than foraging for berries on a daily basis. Equipment for daily survival became more sophisticated, and by the Mesolithic Period the basis stone axes of Paleolithic Age had made way for better cutting tools and the selection of stones for specific jobs. With the onset of the Neolithic Age, improved tools allowed man to carve wooden utensils, statues and canoes, as well as experimenting with different mediums such as basketry, textiles and poetry.

Indonesia's Metal Age started later than other Asian civilisations, begining with a combined Bronze and Iron Age. It had a huge impact on people's lives: metals were easy to shape, durable and colourful, and enabled man to accomplish tasks faster than ever before. He become more prosperous due to improved tools, which made tasks like cultivating crops easier, and began to focus more on religion.

Besides animist beliefs, man worshipped his ancestors. He believed in offering his most prized possessions to his god and his ancestors, and he concentrated on making these offerings as perfect as possible. During this era, man took to the sea and learnt to navigate by the stars, The first guilds were set up - groups of artists in the same field, such as potters, weavers, gold, and silversmiths, who worked for the community and their ruler. Who was believed to be the personification of the gods.

The period between 1292 and 1398 is considered the Golden Age of Indonesia history when the Majapahit Empire, a Hindu-Budhist kingdom, ruled supreme and was the first kingdom to come to close to Indonesia unification. The Majapahit controlled all the ports around the Java Sea and enggaged in lucrative seaborne trade. Although Indonesia continued to interact with other countries, it was during this time that Indonesia began to display indigenous forms of art and culture.

Each region had its own cultural characteristics depending on the intensity of a particular influence. However, there were three customs common to all areas of the archipelago: the chewing of betel leaves, the weaving textiles and jewellery design. The quality of betel-leaf containers and jewellery indicated the social status of the owner while both jewerelly and textiles were attributed with special powers, such as the ability to ward off evil spirits.

Muslim traders had long visited Indonesia shores, but it was not until the 14th century, when these followers of Mohammed considerably expanded their trade, that Islam spread to Sumatra and Java. It is believed that a desire for trade, wealth and power motivated the Hindu rulers in Java to convert to Islam, and tha once they change their religion, their subject followed suit. By the end of the 15th century, there were 20 Muslim kingdom in Indonesia, and around 90% of Indonesians are of this religious denomination today.

Portuguese mariners were the first Europeans to set foot in Indonesia, making a strong impact on the eastern regions and imposing their Christian beliefs and their language on the natives. They were not interested in territorial expansion but concentrated on acquiring lucrative commodities for export back to Europe. However, the impression the Portuguese made on the archipelago also remains to this day: Christianity is stll prevalent in some eastern provinces and many Malay/Indonesia words are Portugese in origin.

By the late 16th century, Dutch traders had reached Indonesia and they soon gained a firm foothold in the archipelago. The Dutch-East Indies corporation, or the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC), was set up to prevent competition between rival Dutch companies, and its directors gave themselves exclusive rights to trade, build ports and forts, and make laws in Indonesia. The Dutch were gradually able to subdue Indonesian dynasties, who were constantly at war with one anothe, and they built strategic, fortifiled, trading post, which enabled them to sink any foreign vessel that entered Indonesian waters. Due to corruption and mismanagement, the VOC was bankrupted in 1799.

In 1811, Thomas Stamford Raffles, the Englishman who founded Singapore, mounted an attack on Java and seized power. He was made Lieutenant-Governor of the island when he was only 31, and become very involved in documenting the history and culture of Indonesia, about which he was highly enthusiastic. However, after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, the English shifted their focus to Singapore and the Indonesia islands were handed back to the Dutch, Who eventually established control of the entire archipelago.

Life was oppresive for the majority of Indonesia under Dutch colonial rule and when the better. The Japanese invaded in 1942, the people believed that their fortunes had taken a turn for the better. The Japanese occupation helped to futher Indonesia's nationalist movement. When Japan surendered at the end of the Second World War, Indonesia was able to proclaim its independence on 17 August 1945.

A new era for Indonesia thus began with the creation of national flag, merah putih (red and white) and the implementation of the national motto "Bhineka Tunggal Ika" ( Unity in Diversity).

-----continued ya guys----

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