Indonesia was linked to the mainland Asia during the Pleistocene
period approximately four million years ago. The first people (the
Java Man) arrived during this period. The Archipelago was formed
approximately 3.000-500 BC when the ice age ended and sea levels
rose. The proto Malays (Caucasoid Malays) with a Neolithic culture
arrived to Indonesia during this period. It was the first of two big
waves of immigration. They assimilated with the indigenous peoples.
The Bataks is one of the ethnic groups descending from these people.
The second wave brought Noro Malays (more of a Mongoloid type) who
carried bronze civilization from Indochina. Their descendants are
today all over Indonesia. Both waves came from the same stock, but
the first wave came in an earlier stage of civilization. Both waves
mixed with earlier non-Malay immigrants.
There are very few records about the early history in Indonesia and
not enough have been researched about the subject. Only the history
of the coastal areas is partly known. The inland were unknown and
there were not much exchange of contacts except for trade. Records
of the time were made on palm leaves and other perishable material.
In year 100 Indian scholars reported about a kingdom in Sumatra and
Java called "Dvipantara" or "Jawa Dwipa". China sent envoys to
Sumatra and Arabs and Persians traded in Sumatra. The Egyptian
pharaohs bought camphor from Barus on the west coast. Even the
Greeks mention Sumatra.
Around the 2nd century AD Indian traders brought in Hinduism to
Sumatra. Hinduism spread only in parts of Sumatra, but had had a big
influence on science and culture, for example the use of wet rice
cultivation. In the 6th to the 13th century the Malay trading nation
Sriwijaya in South Sumatra controlled Malacca Straits and the trade
between India, China, and Indonesia.
The first Muslim ruler in Indonesia was Sultan Malek Saleh in Pasai,
Aceh in the end of the 13th century. Both Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta
visited Pasai and North Sumatra in the 12th-13th century. In these
period there was a kingdom called Aru in the area of present Medan.
In 1350 the North Javanese Majapahit kingdom conquered the Pasai and
Aru kingdoms. In the end of the 14th century Majapahit started to
lose its power.
The Arabs expanded their trade considerably with Indonesia in the
14th century and Islam spread along the coasts of Sumatra. It was a
new revolutionary concept that made all men equals. Islam also
became an important concept for coastal areas in countering the
threat of Portuguese and Dutch colonialism.
The Acehnese were traders and expanded their sphere of interest
south and eastward. Aceh became an important trading power, but also
a religious and educational center. See more under
HISTORY OF ACEH.
In 1602 the Dutch East India Company (VOC) was founded and granted
monopoly east of South Africa with a right to make war and peace. In
1694 the VOC had its first contacts with the Batak people around
When France occupied Holland during the Napoleon war the British
East India Company temporarily took over from VOC in Indonesia
(1811-1816). Under this period Sir Stamford Raffles introduced
partial self-government, abolished the slave trade, and introduced a
modern land-tenure system. He even was the first European to visit
the Borobudur temple in central Java. The Dutch, when they came back
to Indonesia, intensified their colonial rule. But this sparked
widespread revolts for freedom. The revolts were however suppressed
one after the other. The London agreement between the Dutch and the
English of 1824 had given the Dutch more free room in Indonesia and
made them more aggressive.
In the 1820's Aceh began again to emerge as a commercial and
political power. Aceh became the biggest black pepper exporter in
the world. In 1858 the Dutch took Siak in North Sumatra through a
treaty in order to prevent British interests from succeeding. They
claimed the oil rich Langkat and Deli, infringing on Acehnese
territory. Between 1870 and 1910 the Dutch tried to take complete
control over all areas they claimed. This era was the height of
their imperialism. Indonesia, or "The Netherlands Indies" was vital
to the Dutch industrialization. In 1904 a Dutch military expedition
takes control over the Batak region.
In 1861 European missionaries start spreading Christianity around
Lake Toba. Tobacco cultivation is introduced in the Medan area in
1865. In 1871 the English and the Dutch sign the Treaty of Sumatra
and The Dutch gets a free hand. In 1873 they declared war on Aceh.
The Batak war begins in the same year and lasts until 1894. King
Sisingamangaraja XII united all local Batak leaders and led the
Bataks in the field. The war in Aceh became very expensive for the
Dutch. Aceh was the richest, best armed and best organized opponent
to ever face colonial expansionism. Aceh fell officially into Dutch
hands in 1913 after heavy losses on both sides.
In 1906 rubber plantations with new varieties start to develop fast.
The plant was brought in from South America to Java in 1876. In 1922
the new harbor Belawan starts to serve northern Sumatra. In February
1942 a revolt starts against the Dutch in North Sumatra and Aceh,
with Japanese support. On March 1 the Japanese make an air raid on
Medan. On March 28 the last Dutch force in Sumatra surrenders to the
Japanese in Kutacane, Aceh. After World War II British troops land
in Indonesia as a contingent of the Allied Forces to disarm the
Japanese. Dutch troops came along with the British with the ultimate
aim of regaining control of Indonesia. They landed in North Sumatra
on June 10, 1945.
On August 17, 1945, Soekarno (1901-1970) reads a unilateral
Declaration of Independence. This date is now the Indonesian
National Day. On November 10, 1945, fighting broke out between
British troops and the newly formed Indonesian Republic Army. The
British turned to an all-out combat from the sea, air and land. The
Indonesian forces had to withdraw from urban battles. Instead they
formed guerrilla units. The Dutch sent in more troops to attack
Indonesian strongholds. In February 1949 the Dutch were threatened
by the Americans to be excluded from the Marshall plan, because of
its war in Indonesia. A Round Table conference started in The Hague
on August 23, 1949, under the auspices of the UN. On November 2
Holland recognized the sovereignty of the Republic of Indonesia. On
December 27, 1949 the Dutch East Indies ceased to exist. On December
1949 the Dutch formally transferred sovereignty to Indonesia.
It is a popular belief that the Dutch ruled Indonesia for 350 years.
However, most areas of present day Indonesia came under Dutch
control in the second half of the 19th and the first half of the
20th century. The Dutch built only limited infrastructures and were
not very interested in educating the Indonesians. Their two major
and lasting Dutch accomplishments in Indonesia were the introduction
of a national language, Indonesian, and the formation of one nation,
Indonesia. Considering how much they took, it is amazing how little
Before independence all of Sumatra was called "Gouverment Van
Sumatra" headed by a governor sitting in Medan. In 1950 Sumatra was
organized in three provinces where Aceh became incorporated under
Medan. This led to a rebellion in Aceh in 1953. In 1957 Aceh became
its own province, as once was promised before they joined the
In February 1958 a rebellion started in Bukit Tinggi, West Sumatra.
It called itself Pemerintah Revolusioner Republik Indonesia (PRRI).
They were joined by rebellions in Sulawesi and got training,
weapons, and active involvement from CIA. They did however not get
sufficient local support in North Sumatra and in Aceh. The foreign
oil companies continued to pay their taxes to Jakarta. Later in 1958
the Indonesian army landed in Medan. They secured the oil fields and
prevented a planned American intervention. The rebels were driven
out of Medan on March 17 and a month later Padang and Bukit Tinggi
were cleared. Only some guerilla fighting in remote areas continued.
The American involvement badly hurt its relations with Indonesia and
made the Indonesian communist party more popular. The Indonesian
communist party became the biggest outside the communist world.
In 1965, after a failed communist coup attempt, Soeharto starts to
squeeze out Sukarno and in 1967 he became the second president.
Soeharto stabilized Indonesian politics with harsh methods and made
the economy start growing. However, democracy was set aside, the
economy came under domination by huge monopolies, and the corruption
developed into extreme proportions. Civil law was paralyzed. In Aceh
a rebellion was crushed and a martial law in the eastern and
northern parts of Aceh was in force for 10 years until 1998.
Soeharto politics finally lead to a total economic collapse in the
beginning of 1998. Medan, like Jakarta and other major towns, was
hit by riots that forced the president to step down.
In May 1998 the protégée of Soeharto, B.J. Habibie becomes
president. In 1999 Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) becomes the new
President with Soekarno's daughter Megawati Sukarnoputri as Vice
President, appointed by a democratically elected parliament.
In Aceh martial law war once more broke out ian martial law was
introduced once again in 2002. Not until after the Tsunami in the
end of 2004, a peace accord could be worked out and finally signed
in Helsinki. App. 120.000-150.000 people were killed by the tsunami
In 2004, in the first direct presidential elections ever, Megawati
lost power to the present President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono who
also won the following election in 2009. Elections are held every
fifth year and the next one is scheduled to 2014.
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