The Republic of Indonesia is a group of islands located in the Indian and Pacific oceans near Southeast Asia. It is the world’s largest archipelago (island group), with around 13,670 islands, more than half of which are uninhabited.
There were many Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms in early Indonesia. By the end of the 13th century, Islamic kingdoms had also been established, and over the next few centuries Islam slowly spread through the islands.
In the 16th century, European traders began gaining influence in Indonesia, and eventually the Dutch took control. Indonesia came to be called the Dutch East Indies. It remained a colony of the Netherlands until 1949, when it gained independence. Its first two presidents, Sukarno and Suharto, became dictators, but more recently Indonesia has been moving toward true democracy.
There are over 230 million people in Indonesia. Approximately 88 percent are Muslim, making it the world’s largest Islamic country. It is also the fourth most populous country in the world (after China, India, and the United States).
Indonesia is ethnically diverse. Although the official language is Bahasa Indonesia, a form of Malay, many other languages are spoken, including Dutch, English, and local dialects such as Javanese. More than half of all Indonesians live on the island of Java, where the capital city of Jakarta is located.
The former Indonesian province of East Timor, made up of islands at the eastern end of the archipelago, became an independent republic in 2002. Indonesia and East Timor are not monarchies, but traditional leaders still have influence.
The Largest Indonesian Islands
The Indonesian province of Irian Jaya occupies the western half of the world’s second largest island, New Guinea. The eastern half of the island belongs to the Independent State of Papua New Guinea. Indonesia also owns 75 percent of the world’s third largest island, Borneo, which Indonesians call Kalimantan. The rest of Borneo belongs to Brunei and Malaysia. Other large Indonesian islands include Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Java.