Officially the Republic of Indonesia, but rarely ever referred to as anything but Indonesia, this nation of over 238 million people is the world’s fourth most populous country. Indonesia is an archipelago comprised of 17,508 islands, located in Southeast Asia and Oceania. At 1,919,440 km2, Indonesia is the world’s 15th largest country in terms of land area and the 7th largest in terms of combined sea and land area.
Indonesia is comprised of 33 provinces and 1 Special Administrative Region, governed by a pre-colonial monarchy. The country shares land borders with Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and Malaysia. Neighboring countries include Singapore, the Philippines, Australia, Palau, and the Indian territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Indonesia consists of hundreds of distinct native ethnic and linguistic groups. The largest and most politically dominant ethnic group is the Javanese. An Indonesian identity has developed, defined by a national language, ethnic diversity, religious pluralism within a predominately Muslim population, and a shared history of colonialism and rebelling against it. Indonesia’s national motto, “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika”, translated literally to English it is “Unity in Diversity”, but it means “many, yet one”. Despite its large population and regions that are very densely populated, Indonesia has many areas that remain wilderness and the archipelago support the world’s second highest level of biodiversity.
The name Indonesia dates back to the 18th century and is derived from the Greek words Indós and nèsos, which means “island”. However, the archipelago has been home to humanoids and humans for millennium. Fossils and remnants of tools indicate that the Indonesian archipelago was inhabited by Homo Erectus, commonly known as “Java Man”, as far back as 1.5 million years ago, and that they were still in residence as recently as 35,000 years ago. Homo sapiens first appeared the region 45,000 years ago, so for somewhere around 10,000 years the two species coexisted.
It was the nutmeg plant, native to Indonesia’s Banda Islands, that drew Europe’s colonial powers to Indonesia. Nutmeg was once one of the most valuable commodities in the world.
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