Historians believe that Indonesia was linked with the Asian mainland during the Pleistocene period (four million BC). This period was also related to the first appearance of the Hominids; what is today called ‘Java Man’ inhabited Indonesia as early as two million to 500,000 years ago. ‘Java Man’ is a short name for Pithecanthropus Erectus , a human-like species whose fossilized remains were discovered by the scientist Eugene Dubois on the island of Java.
Buddhist and Hindu Kingdoms
Much later, Indonesia developed many well-organized kingdoms. Ruled by indigenous Rajas who embraced the Hindu and Buddhist religions, these kingdoms grew very civilized. Today, this time in history is called the period of Buddhist-Hindu Kingdoms. It lasted from ancient history to the 15th century
The first Buddhists arrived in Indonesia from around 100 to 200 AD from India. One of the most famous Buddhist kingdoms in Indonesian history is Sailendra (750-850 AD). During this period, the famous Buddhist temple at Borobudur was built. The dynasty’s replacement, the Hindu kingdom of Mataram began the era of Hindu kingdoms. The mightiest Hindu kingdom in Indonesia’s ancient history was the Majapahit Empire. Under the reign of King Hayam Wuruk (1331-1364 AD), the empire enjoyed tributary relationships with territories as far away as Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines.
Gujarati and Persian merchants who embraced Islam started to visit Indonesia in the 13th century. Along with trade, they introduced Islam to the Indonesian Hindus, particularly in the coastal areas of Java. Islam then spread further east to the Bone and Goa Sultanates in Sulawesi, Ternate and Tidore in the northern part of Maluku, and the east part of Lombok. Besides those areas, Islam also expanded to into Banjarmasin, Palembang, Minangkabau, Pasai, and Perlak.
European influence in Indonesia began when the Portuguese, in search for spices, landed in 1512. Both the Portuguese and the Spanish spread Christianity in Indonesia. Meanwhile, the Dutch established an organized merchant trade called Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1602 to tap the rich spices territories. After the seizure of Ambon in Maluku (1605) and Banda Island (1623), the Dutch enjoyed a trade monopoly in the “Spice Islands.”
In 1814 the British came to Indonesia. During the Napoleonic wars in Europe, when Holland was occupied by France, Indonesia fell under the rule of the British East India Company. After the fall of Napoleon, the British and Dutch signed a convention in which it was agreed that Dutch colonial possession dating from 1803 onwards should be returned to the Dutch administration in Batavia (present-day Jakarta). Thus, the Indonesian archipelago once again became a Dutch possession in 1815.
Throughout the period of colonization, Indonesians had been fighting for their independence. This struggle, begun in the 1600s, climaxed with a proclamation of independence in 1945, and continued for a few years more.
When World War II broke out, the Japanese occupied the Dutch East Indies after the surrender of the Dutch colonial army in March 1942. Three years later, on August 14, 1945, the Japanese surrendered to the Allied Forces. To Indonesia’s leaders, the power vacuum in Jakarta looked like an open window of opportunity to proclaim their independence. On 17 August 1945, Indonesian national leaders Soekarno and Dr. Mohamad Hatta proclaimed Indonesia’s independence on behalf of the Indonesian people. The proclamation took place at Jalan Pengangsaan Timur No.56, Jakarta, and was heard by thousands of Indonesians nationwide through a secret radio broadcast from a captured Japanese radio station, Jakarta Hoso Kyoku. An English translation of the proclamation was broadcast overseas soon afterwards.