The first settlers in the Indonesian Archipelago was believed to
be that of the "Java Man", found in east Java. The "Malays" from
southern China and Indochina later began populating the archipelago
Indonesia is very much influenced by the cultures it encountered
throughout its history. Powerful groups such as the Buddhist Srivijaya
empire and the Hindu Mataram kingdom had arisen in Java and Sumatra
towards the end of the 7th century. The last great Hindu kingdom
was the Majapahit, which was founded in the 13th century. The subsequent
spread of Islam into the archipelago in the 14th century forced
the Majapahit's to retreat to Bali, which is one of the few islands
which remained Hindu and preserved to this day. By the 15th century,
a strong Muslim empire had developed and most people in Indonesia
today practice Islam.
The Portuguese came in the 16th century and brought Europeans into
the region in search of spices. However, the Dutch displaced the
Portuguese and dominated the spice trade while taking control of
the entire archipelago by the early 20th century.
In 1942, the Dutch were overcome by invading Japanese during WWII.
On 17 August 1945, two days after Japan's surrender, leaders of
the people in the archipelago, Sukarno and Hatta proclaimed the
independence of the Republic of Indonesia and were selected as its
president and vice president. However, in July 1947, the Dutch violated
an earlier agreement with the British to accept the authority of
the new republic and launched attacks against the republic. For
four years, Indonesians fought to regain their land and finally,
with help from the United Nations, the Dutch surrendered the sovereign
rights to the new Republic of Indonesia on 27 December 1949.
Indonesia is rich in art and culture, integrated with religion and
age-old traditions. Although the legal system is based on the old
Dutch penal code, social and religious duty has, over time, been
refined to form a code of behaviour called "adat" or traditional
law which differs from area to area. Religious influences on the
community are variously evident from island to island.
In general, Indonesian dance is slow, with controlled, reserved
motions. The famous dance dramas of Java and Bali are derived from
Hindu mythology and often feature fragments from the Ramayana and
Mahabharata Hindu epics. Their influence is evident in the use of
the legs, neck, head, and hands. Like most of Indonesia's arts,
the elegant, intricate music and dance of the region is rooted in
religion and ritual. Dances and dramas are accompanied by a full
"gamelan" orchestra comprising xylophones, drums, gongs, and in
some cases string instruments and flutes.
There are also various forms of puppet shows. The "wayang kulit"
of Java is performed with leather puppets skillfully wielded by
a puppeteer to tell famous tales of Hindu culture. It is performed
against a white screen while a lantern in the background casts the
shadows of the characters on the screen, visible from the other
side where the spectators are seated. There is also the "Batik",
the most famous Indonesian printing method, in which wax is applied
to cloth to form a pattern and the cloth is then dyed.