The strategic position of Indonesia, has had distinctive influences on both the political and economic history of the islands.
Fossils of ”Java Man” (Pithecanthropus Erectus) which date back some 500,000 years, were discovered near the village of Trinil in East Java by Dr. Eugene Dubois in 1809. This discovery was followed by other finds in later years which are evidence of Java’s earliest inhabitants. Major migration movements to the Indonesian archipelago have been traced as far back as 3,000- 500 B.C. These first migrants were of Mongoloid stock from China and Tonkin and have been credited with introducing new Stone, Bronze and Iron Age cultures as well as the Austronesian language. Indonesia came under the influence of a mighty Indian civilization through the gradual influx of Indian traders in the first century A.D., when great Hindu and Buddhist empires were beginning to emerge. By the seventh century, the powerful Buddhist Kingdom of Sriwijaya was expanding and it is thought that during this period the spectacular Borobudur Buddhist sanctuary was built in Central Java. The thirteenth century saw the rise of the fabulous Majapahit Hindu empire in East Java, which united the whole of what is now modern day Indonesia and parts of the Malay peninsula, and ruled for two centuries. Many monuments spread through Java such as the Prambanan temple complex near Yogyakarta, the Penataran temple complex in East Java as well as the ethereal temples on the Dieng Plateau are remnants of this glorious period in Indonesia’s history. First recorded attempts to invade Indonesia were by the notorious Mongol Emperor Kubilai Khan who was driven back in 1293. Arab traders and merchants laid the foundations for the gradual spread of Islam to the region which did not replace Hinduism and Buddhism as the dominant religions until the end of the 16th century. Small Moslem kingdoms developed and grew, but none anticipated the strength and persistence of European invasions which followed.
In 1292, Marco Polo became one of the first recorded Europeans to set foot on the islands, but it wasn’t until much later that the Portuguese arrived in pursuit of spices. In 1509, Portuguese trading posts were established in the strategic commercial centre of Malacca on the Malay peninsula and it was from here that they began to control trade Routes. The Dutch followed at the turn of the 16th century and succeeded in ousting the Portuguese to the easternmost islands where some ports were controlled by another major European power, Spain. The Dutch expanded their control of the entire area into the 17th and 18th centuries and retained it for the most part until the outbreak of World War 11 in 1939. The Dutch East Indies, as it was known at this time, fell under British rule for a short period during the Napoleonic Wars of 1811-1816, when Holland was occupied by France and Dutch power overseas was limited. While under British control the Lt. Governor for Java and its dependencies was Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who was known for his liberal attitude towards the people under colonial rule and his research on the history of Java. With the return of the Dutch a relative calm was interrupted by long and bloody wars launched by the local people against the Dutch colonial government. It was from this period that the independence movements of the 20th century, became stronger and more purposeful.
The surrender of the Japanese in 1945 signalled the end of the Second World War in Asia and also the start of independence. In the wake of global perceptions of freedom, Indonesia proclaimed its independence on August 17 that same year. But the returning Dutch bitterly resisted Indonesian nationalist movements and intermittent fighting followed. Under the auspices of the United Nations at the Hague, an agreement was finally reached on December 9, 1949, It was from this time that Indonesia’s sovereignty over the former Dutch East Indies was officially recognized.