Did you know that Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago with over 17,000 islands, only 6,000 of which are inhabited? Read on for more interesting facts about the wonderful country that is Indonesia.
Straddling the equator for some 5,150 km in southeast Asia, Indonesia is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. With its lush tropical forests, pristine beaches and bustling cities, Indonesia epitomizes everything that is both good and not so good about the region. Join us for a run through of some of the most basic and important facts about Indonesia that you probably weren’t aware of.
The country’s name, Indonesia, is derived from two ancient Greek words: “Indos” which means Indian, and “Nesos” which means Islands. An important trade location since the 7th century, Indonesia attracted attention from foreign powers due to its abundant natural resources, including nutmeg, pepper, cloves and spices.
Between the 15th and 17th centuries, Muslim and European traders battled each other to take control of the islands of Indonesia. In 1602, Dutch explorers established the Dutch East India Company which effectively gained authority over Indonesia and consolidated Dutch interests in the area. Dutch rule continued until the outbreak of World War II, and after a period of Japanese rule, full independence was declared in 1945. It took another four years, however, for the Dutch to recognize Indonesia as an independent nation.
Indonesia is a vast country with an estimated 60 percent of the country’s territory consisting of unpopulated tropical rainforest. It is widely recognized as the second most biodiverse region in the world, and with more than 11,000 uninhabited islands, it is home to a wide variety of plants and animals. One such plant is the Rafflesia, which can grow to a size of five feet high and four feet wide, and is only in bloom for three days each year. During these three days the plant emits a pungent odor, hence why it is also known locally as the corpse flower.
There are over 1,500 species of bird and 515 species of mammals in Indonesia, with only Australia having more endemic species, although the numbers of some of the country’s largest animal species such as leopards, tigers, elephants and rhinoceros have fallen considerably in recent times.
Along with Borneo, the Indonesian island of Sumatra is the only place where the endangered Orangutan lives in the wild.
The island of Komodo is home to the sole remaining dragon in the world of the same name. The Komodo dragon is actually the largest of the lizard species and can grow to three meters in length and up to 70 kilograms in weight.
Located precariously close to the Eurasian, Pacific and Australian tectonic plates, Indonesia is situated in one of the world’s most active seismic regions. Throughout the country there are an estimated 150 active volcanoes, and seismic tremors occur on an almost daily basis. One of the largest volcanic eruptions ever struck the Toba volcano roughly 70,000 years ago. In more recent times, the massive earthquake that triggered the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami killed over 160,000 people on the island of Sumatra.
With an estimated population of 251 million people, Indonesia is the fourth most populated country in the world. Over 85 percent of the population is Muslim, making it the world’s largest Muslim majority country. There are over 300 different ethnic groups in Indonesia, with an estimated 500 languages and dialects in daily use throughout the country. The national language is Indonesian, a variant of Malay that was adopted as the country’s sole official language following the successful uprising against Dutch rule. The national motto ‘Unity in Diversity’ accurately sums up the vibrant yet harmonious mix of cultures and traditions in Indonesia.
Religion is an integral part of life in Indonesia, and each citizen is required by law to follow one of the six state recognized religions – Islam, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Protestantism and Confucianism. Inter-denominational marriages are forbidden, and either partner must convert to ensure both share the same religion.
The minority ethnic Hindu population is mostly congregated on the holiday island of Bali. Superstition is firmly entrenched in their culture and they are known for carrying out some of Indonesia’s more unusual traditions. One such tradition is that each newborn child is prevented from touching the ground until they are at least six months old to ensure the devil is unable to enter its body. Another is the filing down of teeth to prevent the six vices (greed, desire, drunkenness, jealousy, confusion and anger) from entering and corrupting the body.