A Brief History of Indonesia Part II

This is a continuation of the A Short History of Indonesia that we presented in our last chapter. In that article, we discussed the origins of humankind in the the archipelago and continued through the classic Buddhist and Hindu Empires. We ended with the rise of Islam and the creation of Sultanates in Java. Please read that article to learn about the classical period of Indonesian history.

The Beginning of European Exploration

Spice Trade Indonesia
Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Mace

In Part Two we discuss the origins of modern Indonesia. Funnily enough, the beginning of modern Indonesian history begins in Europe. For centuries, the Venetians controlled the Spice Trade from Asia through their monopoly with Arabic merchants. The European demand for spices such as pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg drove prices sky high. These spices were in demand as food preservers and medicine. With such high prices, countries European countries wanted to find the source of these spices for themselves. This is the beginning of the Great Age of Exploration by the Europeans.

The Portuguese were the first to arrive after conquering Malacca in Malaysia. They quickly spread out to eastern Indonesia in search of spices and spreading the Catholic religion. They gained a foothold in Maluku and the eastern Nusa Tenggara islands such as Flores and Timor. Although they were quickly replaced by the Dutch in many places, they continued a strong hold in Flores and Timor for centuries. Roman Catholicism is still the majority religion in many areas of SE Indonesia to this day.

The Rise of the Dutch

By 1619, the Dutch East India Company had created the city of Batavia (the modern city of Jakarta). They eventually were able to control all of Java by getting involved in politics and playing one local kingdom against another. By the 1700s, they were firmly in control of all inter island trade in Indonesia.

John Pinkerton, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, in eastern Indonesia the British were at constant odds with the Dutch over control of the Spice Trade. The valuable Banda Islands, home of nutmeg, were a pawn in their power struggle. Control over the islands changing hands several times between the 1600s and 1800s. The Dutch controlled the spice trade until the Napoleanic Wars in the early 1800s. The British ran the Dutch out of the islands during this time and transplanted thousands of nutmeg trees to British territories in other parts of the world. By the time the British gave the islands back after the defeat of Napolean, the Dutch nutmeg monopoly was broken. The Banda Islands soon became a forgotten group of small, tropical islands once again. Thus ended their role in the world economy.

Indonesia History Banda
Fort Belgica, Banda Neira

By the end of the 1800s the Dutch controlled all of what is now modern Indonesia. They created a large infrastructure of buildings, roads, railways, and communication systems throughout the country. However, rumblings of independence were becoming common by WW1. In fact, the future leaders of Indonesia, Sukarno and Hatta, were first arrested by the Dutch in 1929. By the breakout of WWII, many Indonesians were at first happy to welcome the Japanese. However, this happiness did not last as the Japanese became oppressive as the war went on.

Indonesian Independence

With the surrender of the Japanese in August 1945, Indonesia announced their independence on the 17th of August 1945. With Sukarno as the first President and Hatta as the Vice President, the newly independent Indonesians had to fight against the Dutch who wanted to regain control of their territory. However, by 1949 the Dutch admitted defeat and recognized Indonesian independence. The Republic of Indonesia was officially announced by new President Sukarno on 17 August 1950.

Modern Indonesia

The modern history of Indonesia after 1950 is complex and varied. Suffice to say, it has created a wonderfully diverse country with warm and welcoming people. We are very proud to operate in this beautiful part of the world and would love to share its beauty with you. Although we are still not sure when the country will open to tourism, we are standing by to welcome all of our past and future guests once again. Please reach out to us if you have any questions about cruising in Indonesia, we would be more than happy to discuss it with you.

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