Indonesia: The Asia Oceania Arch of Diversity

Indonesia Bedugul, Bali, Indonesia

Indonesia, a country of rich ethnic diversity and unique geographical phenomena, celebrates 71 years of independence on 17 August

Geography and History

Perhaps no other country offers such powerful, rugged and at the same time beautiful terrain as Indonesia does. An archipelago on the Ring of Fire Indonesia consists of 13,682 islands, with more than 6,000 of them occupied by residents. The total land area makes Indonesia the fourth largest Asian country. The majority of the population live on the five largest islands of Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Sulawesi and Irian Jaya. The capital Jakarta is located on Java. Indonesia has hundreds of volcanoes, at least 100 of which are active to this day. The rich volcanic soil travels down to the lowlands making the agricultural areas abundant in minerals. In addition to volcanic activity the islands are frequently affected by earthquakes and tsunamis. This is due to its location between numerous tectonic plates that place it on the Ring of Fire. This includes the two continental plates of the Eurasian Plate (Sunda Shelf) and the Australian Plate (Sahul Shelf), and the two oceanic plates of the Philippine Sea Plate and Pacific Plate.


Capital Jakarta
Population 257,563,815
Area 1,811,570 sq. km
Major Language (s) Indonesian
Major Religion (s) Islam
Life Expectancy Male: 66.87 years ; Female:71.01 years
Currency Indonesian rupiah (IDR)
Literacy rate Youth 98.98%, Adults 93.88%
GDP Per Capita USD 3,491.93 (2014)

A number of natural beauty sights have developed due to volcanic and tectonic plate activity. Lake Toba, at 450m deep into a crater this body of water is both a lake and a volcano. People are still free to participate in water sports on the lake. Anak Krakatau is the youngest volcano formed by the massive volcanic eruption of Krakatau in 1883 which changed global climate conditions and killed scores of Indonesians. The young volcano has significant activity and tourists can easily see fire and smoke being spit out of the mountain. Gunung Rinjani offered one of the most powerful eruptions of Earth’s history. Now it is rarely active but is a special sight as there is a lake in the crater and another volcano within the lake, a reminder of the strange and unique force of nature. Mount Bromo is one volcano that offers stunning views. Its top was blown off during an eruption and now it sits as a lush flora-covered plateau.

Their place between Asia and Australia is evident in the flora, fauna and animal life, which ranges in diversity across the islands. Vegetation includes tropical rainforests, forested mountains and shrub vegetation. The orangutan is found only on Sumatra and Kalimantan. Tanjung Puting National Park in Kalimantan is home to the largest orangutan population in the world. The siamang, elephant and tapir only on Sumatra, the proboscis monkey only on Kalimantan and the wild ox on Java and Kalimantan. For those interested in seeing the intriguing but dangerous komodo dragon the Komodo National Park spans across several islands. On the other islands species from Australia can be seen. The coastal waters are abundant in coral and all the islands have large varieties of birds, reptiles and amphibians. The tropical climate varies with altitude rather than seasons. Indonesia also has the world’s most extensive mangrove area, approximately four million hectares.

The archipelago’s location has played an important economic, political, religious and cultural role in the country’s history. Most trade ships between the East, the Middle East and India passed through theirs waters exposing the country to economic opportunities and diverse cultures and ideas. This is expressed through their unique culture, arts, styles and varying languages, ethnicities and religions. The nation’s motto, adopted in 1945, is Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, or “Unity in Diversity.” Indonesia claimed independence in 1945. However, the Dutch colonisers refused to acknowledge this and five more years of fighting would continue before real independence was gained. The country celebrates its Independence Day on the 17th of August.

Society and People

Indonesian Muslims make up at least 87 per cent of the population. In fact, Indonesia hosts the world’s largest Muslim population. Indonesians are a mix of hundreds of ethnic groups and dialects. The culture has been formed over the centuries predominately by trading cultures, neighbouring Oceania cultures and European colonial influences but remains under constant transformation to some extent due to the continued exposure of many ethnic groups. The nature of the culture is that of multicultural and interethnic relations rooted in traditions and social hierarchies.

Indonesia Festival Indonesia Moscow

The islands vary in their level of multiethnicity and religious tendency due to their geographical locations which have dictated their degree of interaction with other cultures over the centuries. Some islands hold a similar degree of socio-cultural identity to that of Malaysia. Other Islands such as West Sumatra and Bali are more homogenous. Additionally, Bali remains the only area claiming Hinduism, not Islam, as their religion. Although a small per cent of Christians are found on the other islands. Due to this, one can see many examples of temples of various intricate architecture in Bali. Many of these have become popular tourist destinations.

Indonesia has more than 300 ethnic groups and languages. Very few people still speak Dutch, the once official language of the colonised nation. The current official language, Bahasa Indonesia, stems from Bahasa Malaya and was adopted to ease economic interactions between the two countries. Most Indonesians also speak some degree of English and their own local dialect.

Indonesian families and individuals do not own land but only use it. Land is owned by communities, clans and groups and is appropriated out as necessary. Conflict has arisen more recently over large scale land use projects such as hotels and factories run by powerful companies. Architecture in Indonesia is influenced by Javanese, Indian and European styles. These are seen in the styles of the palaces, mosques and community buildings. Increasingly, traditional style homes are being replaced with modern ones. Local food differs by location and is a mixture of Indian, Middle Eastern, Chinese and Western foods.

Economy and Industry

Indonesia is one of Southeast Asian’s top economies and has three primary sectors: agriculture (13.6 per cent of GDP), industry (42.8 per cent) and services (43.6 per cent). From the agriculture sector the main products are rubber and similar products, palm oil, poultry, beef, fish, shrimp, forest products, cocoa, coffee, medicinal herbs, and spices. The industry sector is comprised of petroleum and natural gas, rubber, mining, cement, wood, paper, textiles, automotive, electrical appliances and machinery, apparel, footwear, medical instruments and appliances, chemical fertilizers, processed food, jewellery and of course tourism. Additionally, the SME sector is growing since it started in the 1970’s, primarily on Java. The businesses meet domestic supply and demand and provides MNCs with the licensed items they need.

The services industry constitutes a large per cent of the GDP and the employment opportunities in the country. Stable and primary service sectors are manufacturing, financial, transportation, hospitality, communication and construction. The healthcare service sector is also beginning to grow. The government of Indonesia is aiming for 20 million annual foreign tourist arrivals by 2019. To encourage this they extended the visa waiver to 169 countries last year. So far in the first half of 2016 there have been 5.29 million foreign visitors. That is up 5.9 per cent from the same period last year. The government’s goal for 2016 is 12 million visitors. A significant portion of tourists go to Bali, famed for its beaches, historical sights and party scenes. The tourism industry contributes about 4 per cent of the GDP and makes up close to 11 million employment opportunities.

The 2015 estimated industry production growth rate is at 4.5 per cent and unemployment remains relatively low at around 5 per cent. However, a portion of the population still lives below the poverty line. The labour force for these three sectors is 38.9 per cent for agriculture, 13.2 per cent for industry and 47.9 per cent for services. In 2015 the country’s exports were approximately 152.5 billion with the main commodities being palm oil, machinery, mineral fuels and rubber. Main countries receiving exports are Japan, U.S., China, Singapore, India, South Korea and Malaysia.

Indonesia mainly imports fuels, machinery, iron and steel and foodstuffs from the same countries that it exports to, although China remains to top importing country. According to the Investment Coordinating Board of the Republic of Indonesia, foreign direct investment rose 7.9 per cent in the first quarter of 2016 equalling IDR 99.4trillion

To push forward the effort of becoming a major global economy by 2025, Indonesia is being guided by their Masterplan for Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesia’s Economic Development (MP3EI). This plan enhances the role of the private sector in driving the economy and forges degrees of cooperation between the government, state enterprises and the private sector to make their role successful. The government has also joined with The Netherlands in producing a massive structure to prevent flooding. This project is called the National Capital Integrated Coastal Development (NCICD) Masterplan, also known as the Giant Sea Wall. Not only is Jakarta plagued by floods but it is also sinking. It is estimated that in 50 years the sea water will be five metres above street level in the capital. In an effort to avoid massive population displacement and secure the economic well-being of the capital this mega-structure is being placed in the bay near Jakarta