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Manual The History of Indonesia (The Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations)

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The History of Indonesia by Steven Drakeley

Indonesia is one of the more complex countries in the world: under its umbrella are over three hundred ethnic groups speaking almost six hundred languages and dialects and under one uncertain political umbrella. From early settlement to modern times, students receive a lively history.

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Series Description The Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations Every school and public library should update its resources with these engagingly written and succinct narrative histories of the world's nations covering prehistoric times through today. Based on the most recent scholarship, each history provides a chronological narrative examining the political, cultural, philosophical, and religious continuities in the featured nation's long, rich history in an exploration of how its people came to be who they are today. This phenomenon would have been greatly facilitated by the nature of the physical environment that early inhabitants encountered.

The prevalence of thick forest, mountainous terrain, and extensive swamps meant that communi- ties naturally tended to establish themselves in the more hospitable Early History to the Coining of Islam b. Having done so, their settlements would usually have been relatively iso- lated from those of other communities due to the prevalence of these natural barriers.

It has to be remembered that until the last few centuries Indonesia's population was small, inhabiting only pockets of an extensive land area with large areas probably com- pletely uninhabited. Larger areas still probably contained fewer people than they did elephants, orangutans, and tigers. It requires a considerable stretch of the imagination to envisage Indonesia like this, as conditions have altered dramatically. As their population has exploded, Indonesians have encroached relentlessly on the nat- ural habitats of these animals over the last few hundred years.

Once plentiful, these animals now hover on or close to the brink of extinc- tion, mostly confined to reserves that are too small and too poorly policed to provide adequate sanctuary. Thus although considerable distances are involved in Indonesia, the cultural diversity is less attributable to a tyranny of distance than to a tyranny of terrain. In this earlier period, distance was much less of a physical barrier than was forest, mountain, and swamp because the archipelagic setting meant that nearly all great distances could be traveled by boat and usually with relative ease and speed.

Unlike the natural land barriers, the seas that separate the islands of Indonesia contributed little to the tendency described above for separate cultural developments. For the most part, the sea was a highway that connected settlements and societies throughout the archipelago, especially those situated on the coasts. Thus we have the phenomenon in which coastal societies, though separated by hundreds of kilometers of sea, often exhibit considerable cultural similarity with each other while simultaneously exhibiting significant cultural differences from other societies located only short distances inland from them.

The Bataks and the Malays of northern Sumatra provide a good example. The latter inhabit the eastern coastal plain and are broadly similar to other coastal Malay communities scat- tered throughout the region. The Bataks inhabit the highland areas of northern Sumatra, where in relative isolation they evolved a cul- ture quite dissimilar to that of the Malays. Facilitating the ease of sea travel throughout the Indonesian archi- pelago and importantly between it and other parts of Asia are the monsoon winds, which blow roughly from fhe northwest during winter in the northern hemisphere and from the southeast in the northern summer.

Relatively predictable, the pattern of these winds 4 The History of Indonesia meant that people could travel large distances quite quickly by sea.

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Because the monsoon wind roughly reverses its direction season- ally, people could return to their homes as readily as they left them merely by timing their travel to the pattern of the winds and thus were much more likely to travel than if their departure were to be permanent. Naturally the capacity to come and go had a significant impact on the process and pace of cultural exchange.

Apart from the monsoon winds, the archipelago's physical geography further con- tributed to the relative ease and safety of sea travel. There are few large distances between landfalls because there are so many islands scattered throughout the archipelago, and large areas of water are quite well sheltered.

Crucial in this latter respect are the waters of the Malacca Strait between the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra that pro- vide a natural sea gateway into the region from the Indian Ocean. Rivers were also major highways that connected scattered settle- ments throughout the archipelago. Few rivers in Indonesia are nav- igable for any great length; nevertheless, their importance should not be discounted in a context in which terrain often made land travel difficult. Rivers not only connected communities of people living along their banks, they also connected all communities, even those living in the upper reaches of the smallest tributaries, to people living on other islands via the sea.

Thus while we should acknowledge the separate cultural devel- opments throughout the archipelago produced over centuries by the influence of terrain, we should not exaggerate the degree to which settlements were isolated and unconnected. Only those who inhabited the most inaccessible forests and mountains, who also usually lived the most nomadic of lifestyles and in the small- est community units, could truly be placed in such a category.

At the other end of the spectrum are those communities that actively exploited the waterway links to other communities.

go site Most pertinent in this context is the seminomadic Malay sea people sometimes referred to as "sea gypsies" that have wandered the archipelago's seas for many centuries. Most communities in the archipelago lived lives somewhere between these extremes. They had contact with the world beyond their immediate cultural and physical horizons, but these contacts were usually infrequent and were often mediated through neighboring communities or else through seafaring peo- ples. In this way plenty of room existed for separate cultural devel- opments while technologies, terminologies, art forms, and ideas could be shared throughout the region and adopted and adapted in Early History to the Coming of Islam b.

Thus despite the striking cultural and linguistic diversity, there is a considerable degree of commonality. For exam- ple, the music and musical instruments of the gong-chime musical form such as the gamelan orchestra of Java, Bali, and Madura are remarkably widespread throughout the archipelago. Many areas at this time were able to provide more than adequate nutrition for communities of moderate size living by these meth- ods.

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Water was rarely scarce as Indonesia has many rivers and receives ample rainfall, except in some of the eastern islands. With rare exceptions, vegetation was abundant, providing edible plants and fruit and sustaining wild game. The plentiful rivers and coast- lines abutting nutrient-rich waters made fishing and the collection of other edible sea products a rich source of food. Yet however benevolent the environment, communities living by hunting and gathering techniques are inherently limited in size and can rarely settle in one location for long before local food supplies become depleted.

Perhaps at some coastal and wetland locations where the fishing was especially good, slightly larger and more settled com- munities could have developed, but still only those of moderate size. Other environments, such as the inland equatorial rainforest areas which once covered much of the islands of Sumatra and Borneo could only have supported very small and widely scat- tered hunting and gathering communities. In Indonesia, as it did elsewhere, the development of agriculture brought dramatic change.

Even primitive agricultural techniques could sustain much higher population densities in most areas than could hunting and gathering. Higher population density is in itself a dramatic development, but its greatest significance lies in its allow- ing for many other profound social developments such as enhanced specialization of labor and the emergence of cities and urban life.

The earliest practice of agriculture in Indonesia occurred in the highland areas of New Guinea around nine thousand years ago, where Melanesian people cultivated plants such as taro a root crop and sugar cane to supplement their hunting and gathering. Perhaps there were some other localized intrinsic developments of agricultural techniques that we do not yet know of, but certainly the widespread 6 The History of Indonesia introduction of highly successful agricultural practices in Indonesia can be attributed to the later Austronesian immigrants.

The agricultural technology that the Austronesians introduced was truly revolutionary, providing those who brought it and those who adopted it with a massive advantage in terms of both being better able to reproduce themselves as well as their capacity for greater social sophistication. The principal technologies introduced initially were dry-rice farming and pig rearing.

Both produced high protein levels in relatively small areas and were very well suited to large parts of Indonesia. Agricultural practices now made it pos- sible for a far greater proportion of Indonesia's inhabitants to settle in one place. They could also settle in greater numbers and in closer proximity to other settlements since the amount of territory needed to sustain a settlement was much less than when people depended on hunting and gathering.

This was true even though the new agri- cultural technology, known as shifting cultivation, was relatively primitive. Shifting cultivation involves clearing virgin land for the planting and harvesting of crops. When the land becomes unpro- ductive the site is abandoned and the process is repeated elsewhere. Naturally the size of settlements and their degree of proximity to others still varied enormously, depending upon the fertility of the soil and other features of the local environment that affected agri- cultural productivity.

The same geographical features remained important but now with some significant variations. Mountains and jungles still constituted barriers, but they were now environments from which a living could more readily be extracted for modest communities, with the application of shifting cultivation to supple- ment hunting and gathering, or vice versa in more favorable areas. Coastal areas where fishing provided a valuable source of protein remained important, but where the coastal plain was fertile, agri- culture then provided an additional, perhaps more important, food source.

The same applied to rivers, where deltas and river valleys sometimes offered an environment vastly more productive with the application of agriculture. This latter development represented a significant change, making sizable inland settlements possible for the first time. The introduction of agriculture accentuated the settlement pat- tern already evident during the era of hunting and gathering.

Since equatorial forest areas were significantly less conducive to human settlement than intertropical forests, the inland areas of Sumatra, Borneo, central Sulawesi, and Papua were already much less densely Early History to the Coming of Islam b. While agriculture allowed for some increased population in equatorial forest areas, it allowed for even greater population increases in the intertropi- cal areas.

Agriculture benefited greatly from the rainfall pattern associated with the latter areas, where there are distinct and regu- lar dry and wet seasons of an appropriate length, rather than the almost year-round rain in the equatorial regions. These conditions were particularly favorable to cereal crops such as rice that need an extended, dry, sunny period for them to ripen.


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Farther east, in the intertropical zone past Bali, the opposite problem begins to take effect, with extended dry seasons of six months or longer for the islands of Nusa Tenggara or Lesser Sundas such as Lombok, Sumbawa, Sumba, Flores, and Timor. The rainfall pattern was not the only natural feature that interacted with agriculture to enhance the already established settlement trend. The islands of Java and Bali were also favored by the fertile soils produced by the activity of their volcanoes, part of the active volcanic belt that stretches from the northern tip of Sumatra to the islands east of Bali.

The emissions of the Sumatran volcanoes produce more acidic and thus less fertile soils. Borneo lies in a volcanically inactive area. The introduction of wet-rice cultivation in Indonesia saw further dramatic changes.

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Dry-rice cultivation a form of shifting cultiva- tion , as the term suggests, involves planting rice seeds in dry ground, often after the existing vegetation has been cut down and burned to provide nutrients so-called slash-and-burn agriculture. Wet-rice cultivation typically involves germinating seeds of rice before planting them closely packed in watery mud in a corner of a field that serves as a nursery. When the seedlings reach a certain point of maturity, usually after about two months, they are pulled out and individually pruned and washed before being transplanted.

They are pressed gently into the mud, covered by a few centimeters of water in regular, dense rows. The water level is carefully main- tained so that the roots and bottoms of the stalks remain covered by water.


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  8. After a few months when the grain has appeared, the water is gradually drained away and the rice plants are allowed to ripen before harvesting.