Formerly called the Dutch East Indies, Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago, with 18,108 islands scattered across 3000 miles (5000 km). It is the world’s fourth most populous nation.
Geography: Indonesia is highly mountainous, with numerous tropical swamps. The land is covered with dense rainforest, especially on New Guinea, where it remains largely unexplored. There are more than 200 volcanoes, many of which are still active. Earthquakes, eruptions, and tsunamis are hazards. The islands of Java, Bali, Lombok, Sumatra, and Borneo were once joined together by dry land, which has since been submerged by rising sea levels. Coastal lowland development distinguishes some of the large islands.
Climate: The climate is predominantly tropical monsoon. Variations relate mainly to differences in latitude and altitude; hilly areas are cooler overall. Rain falls throughout the year, often in thunderstorms, but there is a relatively dry season from June to September.
People and Society: The basic Melanesian–Malay ethnic division disguises a diverse society. Bahasa Indonesia, the national language, coexists with at least 250 other spoken languages or dialects. Attempts by the Javanese political elite to suppress local cultures have been vigorously opposed, especially by the Aceh of northern Sumatra, and the Papuans. Religious and inter-ethnic hostility is a problem, with clashes between Christians and Muslims in many areas, and discrimination against ethnic Chinese leading to mob attacks on their businesses. Gender equality is enshrined in law; women are active in public life.
The Economy: Varied resources, especially natural gas. Cheap and plentiful labor pool. Sizable state-owned sector, and state control of prices of basic goods. Large foreign debt rescheduled. Bureaucracy and corruption damage business confidence. Regional conflicts and terrorist attacks deter tourists and investors. Piracy is rife. The 2004 tsunami, which killed over 130,000 people, devastated northern Sumatra.
Insight: Indonesia has a very youthful population: almost 30% of its people are under 15 years of age
Official Name: Republic of Indonesia
Date of Formation: 1949
Population: 230 million
Total Area: 741,096 sq. miles (1,919,440 sq. km)
Density: 332 people per sq. mile
Languages: Javanese, Sundanese, Madurese, Bahasa Indonesia*, Dutch
Religions: Sunni Muslim 87%, Christian 9%, Hindu 2%, other 2%
Ethnic Mix: Javanese 42%, other 31%, Sundanese 15%, coastal Malays 12%
Government: Presidential system
Currency: Rupiah = 100 sen