Indonesia - Unity in Diversity

I often presented this article to groups of Japanese who interested to Indonesia. Later I will add some illustration.

By Johannes Widodo


For quite a long time our perception have been misled by a wrong image of the world. Most of our maps was distorted by putting more stress on the northern part of the globe. The scale of the Arctic circle is almost 2 times bigger than the scale of the Equator. The Equator line is not put in the middle of the map, but closed to the bottom. This kind of map was produced by the northern ("Western") civilization and imperialism.

This deceptive maps have generated wrong impression about the size of different parts of the world. See the difference between South America (17.8 million km2) and Europe (9.7 million km2) or Greenland (2.1 million km2), India (3.3 million km2) and Scandinavia (1.1 million km2). Also Africa (30 million km2) and ex-Soviet Union (22.4 million km2).

If we redraw an equal-area map and put the Equator line back to the middle, then we will have a different shape of the world. The northern countries or the developed world is much smaller than the rest of the world or the under-developed and the developing world. It becomes necessary to correct our perception and to change our attitude towards each other.

Indonesia is a big country with a total area 5.2 million km2 and 3 time zones, located in the crossing point between two oceans (Pacific and Indian) and two continents (Asia and Australia). The national area of Japan (377,737 km2) is smaller than Sumatra, the second biggest island of Indonesia (473,606 km2). In 1990 the Indonesian total population reached 180 million, the fourth world largest after P.R. China, India, and U.S.A.


Indonesia has about 13,000 big and small islands, but only about 6,000 has name or inhabited. From its total area of 5.2 million km2, about 60% is water and 40% is land.

Indonesian archipelagos are located on top of two active volcanic rows. Just like Japan, eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunamis are common phenomenon in Indonesia. In 1883 the famous massive blow of Mt. Krakatau in Sunda strait between Java and Sumatra produced a tidal wave which killed 30,000 people. The highest peak is Puncak Jaya (5029 meter) in the snow-capped high mountains of Iran Jaya. The ashes from these volcanoes has provided Indonesia with some of the most fertile land on the earth.

Indonesian general climate is tropical warm and humid with plenty of rainfall, except East Nusa Tenggara (drier) and the highlands in Java and Iran Jaya (cooler). The climate changes every six months. Generally, the dry season (June to September) is influenced by Australian continental air masses, while the rainy season (December to March) is caused by the Asian and Pacific Ocean air masses.


There are about 200 languages and dialects spoken by hundreds of different ethnic groups in the Indonesian archipelagos. But almost everybody can speak "Bahasa Indonesia". This "lingua franca" was originated from Malay-Riau language, and has long been used as the common for inter-island trade. This language is mixed with many foreign words as the result of historical contact with other cultures along centuries.

The oldest fossils of homo-sapiens were found in Central Java, called Phitecanthropus Erectus, came from about 500,000 years ago and was identified as belong to Austro- Melanosoid group. Later the Sub-Mongolian race came from the Asian continent around southern Yunan area through Malayan peninsula. Another possibility was that they came from Japanese islands through Taiwan, the Philippines, and entered Indonesia trough Sulawesi.

The Hindu and Buddha religion and culture entered Indonesia around the first century, and for many centuries had dominated many kingdoms throughout Indonesia. During 16th century, Islam entered Indonesia through coastal kingdoms and gradually replaced Hinduism and Buddhism. However the remains of the old Hindu culture can still be found in the famous Bali island.

Meanwhile, since 14th century and until its peak in 19th century, flows of Chinese immigrants from southern China entered Indonesia, and established many settlements on the coastal areas of Sumatera, Kalimantan, and Java. Many of these settlements later developed into towns and big cities, enhanced by the arrival of the European colonialists.

The Western colonial powers entered this region in 16th century, started by the Portuguese, followed by the Spaniards, the Dutch, and the British. Finally the Dutch won the rivalry, and took control most part of Indonesia for 350 years. The Christian missionaries (Catholic and Protestant) spread their religions particularly in those parts where Hinduism and Islam had not yet taken root (eastern Indonesia).

About 87% of the entire Indonesian population are Moslem. Protestants are about 5.7% (mostly in North Sulawesi, Iran Jaya, East Nusa Tenggara, and North Sumatera), Catholic are about 3% (mostly in Central Java, North Sulawesi, East Nusa Tenggara, East Timor, and Irian Jaya), Hindus are about 2% (mostly in Bali island), and Buddhists are about 1%.


The biggest problem of Indonesia is the concentration of population in Java. The island of Java, which is only less than 7% of the total land area, is inhabited by more than 60% of total population (more than 100 million in 1990, or 826 person/km2). As comparison, Japan in 1990 has about 120 million total population. Meanwhile, Irian Jaya which account for 22% of Indonesian land territory is only inhabited by less than 1.2 million people in 1990, or only 4 person/km2. To cope with this problem, then the transmigration and birth control programs have been implemented.

While other developed countries face the slower or even negative economic growth (for example: Japan in 1994 only has 0.1% GDP growth), Indonesia achieved around 7% GDP growth. Beside east Asia, Indonesia and ASEAN countries have became one of the fastest growing region in the world. While Java has been rapidly urbanized and its infrastructure has been developed, but outside Java's development is much slower. The economic inequality between Java and the rest of Indonesia can create serious problems for Indonesia.

It is not so easy to hold Indonesia together, because of its complexity and diversity. But so far the national ideology "Pancasila" (or the five principles) -- Belief in the One Supreme God, a just and civilized humanity, the unity of Indonesia, democracy led by the wisdom of deliberations among representatives, and social justice for all of the people of Indonesia -- can maintain national unity. The ideology is based on the principle of "being in harmony" or avoiding conflicts at both the personal and the communal levels, through mutual cooperation and deliberation processes, so to make everybody happy.

Surely, Indonesia is a great country to watch and to explore. It is not just Bali or Java. It offers a great deal of diversity, possibilities, and potentials. The spirit of "Bhinneka Tunggal Ika", or the "Unity in Diversity" will launch Indonesia towards the brighter future within the family of world nations.

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