FOCUS ON: INDONESIA -- National Profile
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Republic of Indonesia info
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About Indonesia:
Land Climate

Indonesia is the fourth most populated nation in the world, with some 228 million people. The country is comprised of some 17,000 islands (6,000 inhabited) scattered along the largest archipelago in the world, spanning 3,200 miles across the equator (source: CIA WORLD FACTBOOK 2001 and WORLD BOOK Online).

Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Irian Jaya are the five largest islands and account for 90 percent of the total land area. The islands of Sumatra, Java, and Kalimantan are densely forested.

Java is the most industrialized and populated Indonesian island, and home to nearly 60 percent of the nation's population. Jakarta is Indonesia's largest city and the nation's capital. The majority of the island's population lives in small, rural, agricultural villages.

Photo of a mountain
Kalimantan occupies three quarters of the island of Borneo, which is the third largest island in the world. Tropical rain forests cover most of the island, and the population is small.

Irian Jaya is the least developed and populated region of Indonesia, and it occupies half of the island of New Guinea. Most of the island is covered with tropical rain forests. Since the late 1960s, more than 1.5 million people have been resettled here from Java and Bali, which has been the cause of recent ethnic conflict.

East Timor was a Portuguese colony until 1975. Indonesia invaded the country after the Portuguese departed, and annexed it. The people of East Timor rejected Indonesian rule in a UN-sponsored referendum in August 1999, but the country dissolved into violence led by pro-Indonesian militias. The United Nations sent in a peacekeeping force to stop the killing, and a month later the Indonesian Assembly voted to end its claim to the island.


Photo of a plant
Indonesia dominates strategic shipping lanes that provide passage to 40 percent of the world's commerce today. For more than a thousand years, Indonesia has been knit together by a complex system of seafaring trade, resulting in a rich heritage of religious, cultural, and ethnic influences.

Colonial History

The Chinese began to trade with the islands thousands of years ago, followed in the 8th century by Hindu and Buddhist merchants from India. The empires founded by these merchants were supplanted by Islamic influences carried by Arab traders in the 13th century.

Photo of Indonesians
The English and Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in the area, but the Dutch East India Company, based in Batavia (Jakarta), gained control of the area in 1595. Dutch influences continued to grow until they unified the archipelago as the Dutch East Indies.

The Dutch governed until World War II, when the Japanese occupied the country. After the war, Indonesian nationalists led by Achmed Sukarno, who later became Indonesia's first president, fought for independence from Holland. The Dutch granted independence to the new Republic of Indonesia in 1949.

Indonesia has a tropical climate with just two seasons: a dry season that runs from June to September, and a wet season that runs from November to March. The temperature ranges between 73 degrees and 91 degrees.


Indonesia has the world's largest community of Muslims, who make up 88 percent of the country's population. Christians make up 8 percent, and 2 percent are Hindus. The remainder are Buddhists, Taoists, and Confucians.

Breakdown of religions in Indonesia

Indonesia is a very diverse nation embracing some 300 ethnic groups, which speak more than 250 different languages. The Javanese make up 45 percent of the population, the Sundanese account for 14 percent, and the Madurese and the Malay account for another 8 percent each. Chinese are the main ethnic minority.


The national language is called Bahasa Indonesia, or "language of Indonesia." With roots in a local trade language, it was formalized as a national language in the late 1920s to help unify the country. While most Indonesians speak their native languages at home, Bahasa Indonesia is the language of politics and business and is used in the public schools and universities.

Breakdown of languages in Indonesia

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