T he Indonesian archipelago has more than seventeen thousand five hundred islands, extending around the Equator from the Malayan Peninsula in Southeast Asia, to Papua New Guinea, to the north of Australia. The five largest islands are Borneo (Kalimantan), New Guinea (Irian Jaya), Sumatra, Java and Celebes (Sulawesi).
Situated at the convergence of the Pacific Eurasian and Indo-Australian tectonic plates, the islands are affected by intense seismic and volcanic activity. Their rich marine ecosystems, their tropical monsoon climate and their diverse topography (the Puncat Jaya summit reaches a height of four thousand eight hundred and eighty four metres) make it one of the most bio-diverse regions on Earth. There, Asian and Australasian species mix with local ones.
It seems that Homo sapiens could have arrived from the Asian continent some forty five thousand years ago. Today the population is composed mainly of Austronesians, who emigrated four thousand years ago.
From the VIIth century, the powerful naval Buddhist Kingdom of Sri Vijaya, from Sumatra, controlled most of the islands, being replaced by the Hindu Majapahit Empire of Java towards the end of the XIIIth century. The latter reached great splendour, maintaining its dominance until 1527. There are those who consider this period as the ‘Golden Age’ of what is today Indonesia. Also during that period the first Muslim communities were established in the north of Sumatra and from the XVIth century, Islam became the dominant religion in the area.
Indonesia as a nation state is essentially a post-colonial construct, where nearly three hundred native ethnic groups coexist and in which more than seven hundred languages are spoken.