Indonesia is an archipelago nation situated in southeastern Asia. It is truly a treasure trove of wonders and shocking stories. From the immense biodiversity of its rain forests to one of the greatest mass murders perpetrated in the 20th century. Indonesia is a country that can be hard to wrap your head around. Which is why we’re here to do it for you. Here are the 10 things you didn’t know about Indonesia.
10: Mass Killings in Indonesia
One of the least talked about incidents in the west is the mass killings that took place in Indonesia between 1965 and 1966. During the height of the Cold War, the US was taking every measure to combat communism in the form of the infamous policy of containment. This lead to multiple US interventions abroad in the name of containment both direct and indirect. At the time Indonesia was led by president Sukarno who despite not being a communist, did, in fact, allow for the presence of a Communist Party. This policy of tolerance made the CIA suspicious of them. Which leads them to make attempts to discredit him.
After nonviolent means have failed the CIA resorted to other less pleasant methods. Over the course of months, the CIA began supplying the Indonesian military with communications equipment, small arms, and information. CIA started to directly support then Major General Suharto, who would later become the dictator of the country for 3 decades. The Indonesian military and some citizenry then began a campaign of mass killings that included communists, alleged communists, ethnic Chinese, and anyone else they did not like.
To say it got out of hand is a bit of an understatement because by the time it was done an estimated 1 million people had been killed with some estimates as high as 2 to 3 million. Although theoretically ideologically motivated, much of it had more to do with petty gripes and thuggery than anything else. The Indonesian genocide will likely remain a dark stain on this country’s otherwise fascinating history.
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The rainforests of Indonesia are home to some of the greatest concentrations of biodiversity in the world. Some scientists believe the Indonesian archipelago to be the most species-rich region in the entire world, covering only 1% of the world’s land area. The Indonesian rainforest house 10% of the world’s known plant species. Additionally, it contains some of the world’s rarest mammals. Such as the Sumatran tiger and rhinoceros, and possibly 17% of the world’s bird species. However, all these unique biodiversities are threatened by the shadow of manmade destruction and greed. Palm oil plantations, as well as deforestation, are responsible for the rapid disappearance of Indonesian biodiversity. The great tragedy in all of this, in addition to the destruction of plant and animal species, is the potential for new medical discoveries and medicine found in the rain forests that are being stripped away every day by human greed and indifference.
8: Chinese Population
You might not think of the Chinese when you think of Indonesia but there’s been a presence of the Chinese there for hundreds of years. Unfortunately, evidence of discrimination against the Chinese in Indonesia can be attested to since their arrival and they remain an unpopular but persistent minority in Indonesian culture. During the mass killings in the 1960s, many ethnic Chinese were targeted and executed for reasons of alleged communism. The reality is that since the Chinese have arrived they have consistently outperformed the local Indonesian population in terms of economics. Which has created resentment towards them as outsiders doing better than the natives? It is unlikely that this situation will ever change since human beings are tribal by nature. And one tribe doing better than another is something most people just can’t stomach.
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7: Indonesia Cuisine
Indonesian cuisine is colorful, intense, flavorful, and unfortunately, largely unknown in the west. It’s only been in recent years the Indonesian cuisine has gained worldwide recognition. In particular, for dishes such as rendang, which is a spicy meat dish that incorporates spices such as ginger, garlic, chilies, and much more. Nasi Goreng or fried rice, which is an unusual mixture of garlic, tamarind, ground shrimp paste and chili, and satay. Which is grilled meat served on a skewer, often dipped in peanut sauce. If you like spicy and sequinned food then you’ll be right at home with Indonesian cuisine. Which covers the entire spectrum of color in the rainbow of world cuisine.
6: East Timor
Another episode of Indonesia’s checkered past is illustrated by the 1975 invasion of East Timor, executed under the pretext of anti-colonialism. The truth is, as is often the case with military interventions. It had more to do with political ambition and Indonesian nationalism than anything else. After the popular government, under the revolutionary front for an independent East Timor, sometimes referred to as Fretilin had been overthrown. The Indonesian military set up shop on the island for nearly a quarter of a century.
Little known to many is that the invasion had American, British and Australian backing in the form of advanced weaponry and tacit approval. Falling under the rubric of containing communism, since the overthrown Fretilin government had been a leftist organization. The end result of this was the killing and starving of close to 180,000 people in East Timor at the hands of the Indonesian military. Which only ended when a combination of Australian peacekeeping forces. A UNTAET or the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor took control of the reigns. Only after several years of UN presence the power gradually ceded to the people of East Timor, a situation which remains today.
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5: Komodo Dragon of Indonesia
You might be familiar with the Komodo dragon, which is the largest living lizard species in the world. Well, you guessed it, you can only find them in Indonesia. These massive lizards have deadly claws, massive jaws, and are some of the most frightening animals around. They have also provided some interesting information on the evolution of snake and reptile venom. For the longest time, scientists thought that bacteria in the mouth of the Komodo dragon would infect their prey, eventually killing them. In the early 2000s scientists discovered that in fact, the Komodo dragon possesses venom glands that produce toxins that slow down blood pressure, induce paralysis and promote blood clotting. Researchers have hypothesized, that this simple venom system might have been a precursor to the more advanced surveillance systems in modern snakes. Since reptiles of the Komodo sort are far older than snakes are.
The orangutan is an ape, closely related to human beings. In fact, they share 97% of our DNA. The name orangutan is derived from the Malay and Indonesian word meaning, forest person. Orangutans are the only great apes that are found in Asia and are unique to Indonesia. They may not be around much longer if the current trend continues. Between active human malice, in which people violently attack and kill them for being an alleged nuisance, to the habitat destruction they face in light of mass deforestation. The orangutan’s future is an uncertain one. The possibility of extinction in the next few decades is very likely and would be a sad fate for our cousin.
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3: Pollution in Indonesia
Pollution is a problem in many capital cities in the world. The capital of Indonesia, Jakarta can give the Chinese a run for their money. In fact, in a breakdown according to diseases, the World Health Organization data revealed that 40% of the deaths connected to air pollution were caused by ischemic heart disease and another 40% were due to strokes. Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases contributed to 11% of the deaths. Lung cancer at 6% and the acute lower respiratory infections in children for 3%. This report named Indonesia as the second-largest contributor to the deaths after the Western Pacific region with 963,000 fatalities.
Much of this pollution is caused by the many vehicles that are present in the city. Which makes it a tough choice to give up on mobility or give up on your health. Other thoughts tend to be more positive citing evidence of the west when it was a lot more polluted. Many believe it’s just a matter of time until Indonesia cleans its act up.
2: Indonesia is Colonized More Than Once
Despite perpetrating a great deal of violence on its own. Indonesia has been colonized more than once. In fact, Indonesia known under the name of the Dutch East Indies was a colony of the Netherlands for close to 150 years. This has had a lasting impact, in that many people in the Netherlands actually have some Indonesian background in them. Dutch rule lasted until 1942 when after having been occupied by German forces. The Dutch lost the ability to control their far-flung colony. Which the Japanese empire took advantage of, by placing their forces on Indonesian soil. The Japanese occupation lasted from 1942 until 1945 when World War II ended. One thing it did, sparked a type of national awakening in the form of a collective Indonesian national identity, which is one that arguably still exists today.
1: Volcano Nation
Indonesia is sometimes called the volcano nation because of a near-constant chain of volcanic eruptions dating back tens of thousands of years. These eruptions have contributed to the beauty of the Indonesian landscape forming new structures and pathways on the one hand. On the other hand, are a constant danger to the population. The United States Geological Survey has cited Indonesia as one of the most geologically active regions in the world today. Sulfur mining is a popular economic activity as a result but there’s a constant danger. Most recently, Mount Sinabung erupted, killing at least seven people with many more having to be evacuated. The political instability of Indonesia almost goes hand in hand with the geological instability of the land.
So, that was our today’s list of 10 things you didn’t know about Indonesia? What do you guys know more about Indonesia? Let us know in the comments below. Don’t forget to check out our other lists. Thanks.