Indonesia, republic of southeast Asia occupying most of the Malay archipelago, the world's largest archipelago, consisting of more than 13,000 islands and islets strung out along the equator from Sumatra facing the Indian Ocean in the west to New Guinea in the east. These were the Indies sought by Christopher Columbus and other explorers. The Moluccas, part of Indonesia, were the Spice Islands of the merchant venturers.
Land and climate
Extending for more than 3,000 mi (4,828 km) from west to east, Indonesia's islands range in size from small deserted reefs to large islands like Sumatra (182,860 sq mi/473,607 sq km), the world's sixth-largest island. About half of New Guinea, the world's second-largest island, and about three-quarters of Borneo, third-largest island, belong to Indonesia. More than 6,000 of Indonesia's islands are inhabited. Many of the islands have luxuriant tropical rain forests containing valuable hardwoods. Although some have areas of low-lying plain or swamp, most are mountainous. Java, Sumatra, and the Little Sunda group have a great line of volcanic peaks. The eruption in 1883 of Krakatoa, in the strait between Java and Sumatra, resulted in the loss of 30,000 lives. There are few large rivers. Rivers flowing into the comparatively shallow South China, Java, and Arafura seas build up deltas, often at a remarkably rapid rate. Coastal scenery ranges from coral reefs, sandy beaches, and mangrove forests to cliffs. Vegetation and wildlife are varied. Some islands, like Java and Borneo, have distinctly Asiatic types, while New Guinea has Australian types, both types being blended in the islands in between. The rain forests contain teak, ebony, and other hardwoods, giant creepers, and shade-loving plants. Along the coasts there are casuarina trees, coconut, and other palms and, where it is muddy, extensive mangrove forests. Wildlife includes elephants, tigers, rhinoceros, orangutans, and, in the eastern islands, pouched animals like the opossum, wallaby, and cuscus. There are many beautiful and brightly colored birds. Snakes and crocodiles abound, but Indonesia's most famous reptile is the Komodo dragon, the giant lizard of the small island of Komodo east of Sumatra. The main islands fall into 3 groups: (1) the Greater Sunda Islands: Java, Sumatra, Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan), and Celebes (Sulawesi); (2) the Lesser Sunda Islands, including Bali, Flores, Lombok, Sumba, Sumbawa, and Indonesian Timor; (3) the Moluccas (Maluku), including Ambon, Aru Islands, Banda Islands, Buru, Ceram, Halmahera, and the Tanimbor Islands. Including West Irian (formerly Netherlands New Guinea), Indonesia has a total area of more than 741,101 sq mi (1,919,443 sq km). Its most important islands, in terms of population density and economic and cultural activity, are Java, Bali, and Sumatra. Indonesia has a hot, rainy, equatorial climate that is modified by monsoonal winds. From mid-June to Oct. the southeast monsoon brings dry air from Australia. From Nov. to Mar. a north or northeast monsoon blows from mainland Asia across the South China Sea, where it collects much moisture and brings heavy rains. Violent tropical thunderstorms occur almost daily.
Two-thirds of the population lives on Java, site of the capital and chief port, Jakarta. The population can be broadly divided into Malays and Papuans, with Chinese, Arabs, and others. Bahasa Indonesia is the official language, but over 250 other languages are spoken. Education is compulsory, and most Indonesians are literate. There are more than 50 universities and technological institutes.
Some 55% of the population is in farming, producing rice, coconuts, cassava, corn, peanuts, sweet potatoes, spices, and coffee, and raising cattle, goats, hogs, and chickens. The economy rests largely on agriculture, forestry, and fisheries, but mineral resources are being increasingly exploited. Coal, bauxite, copper, manganese, nickel, and precious metals are mined. Indonesia's most important products are oil, its chief export, and tin, of which it is one of the world's major producers. There is some light manufacturing, mostly centered on Java.
Hominids lived on Java 1 million years ago. Civilization grew under Indian influence after the 4th century A.D.; several kingdoms flourished from the 12th to 14th centuries. Islam spread swiftly in the 15th century. European impact began in 1511, when the Portuguese captured Malacca. But Portugal eventually kept only East Timor, losing control to the English and Dutch. The Dutch East India Company founded Batavia (Jakarta) in 1619 and dominated the so-called Dutch East Indies until the Netherlands assumed control in 1798. Britain occupied the islands (1811–16) during the Napoleonic Wars, then returned them to the Dutch, who greatly expanded cash-crop exports during the 19th century. Nationalist movements emerged in the early 1900s, and after Indonesia's occupation by Japanese forces in World War II, Sukarno proclaimed Indonesia an independent republic. The Dutch were forced to grant independence in 1949. President Sukarno's dictatorial, anti-Western regime and extravagant spending damaged the economy. General Suharto deposed Sukarno in 1968. He suppressed left-wing groups, severed links with Communist China, and restored relations with the West, seeking to stabilize the economy. In 1975, after Portugal withdrew from East Timor, Indonesian troops invaded, and in 1976 the region was proclaimed a province of Indonesia, a move not recognized by the UN. Popular unrest, caused by economic crisis and a call for democratic reform, led to Sukarno's resignation in 1998. He was succeeded by B.J. Habibie. Large forest fires on Borneo and Sumatra caused heavy smoke production which endangered public health in Indonesia and Malaya (1997–98).