The Republic of Indonesia by some metrics is huge. It stretches for almost 5000 kilometers along the equator, somewhat over 45 degrees of longitude. It is also the world's fourth most populous country, with over a quarter billion inhabitants. It is comprised of roughly 17,000 islands, the exact number depending on who is counting and how high the tide is. About a third of those islands are not permanently inhabited. On the east it is bounded by Papua New Guinea, which occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea. To the west, the northwestern sectors of Borneo are occupied by the Malaysian provinces of Sabah and Sarawak. These have been include in this photographic study, largely because the author has visited them.
Originally, most of the major islands had their own set of cultures and languages, and melding them all into one nation has been a difficult task, which has left tensions to this day. To some extent, Indonesia might be considered a Javan empire, and Java is certainly the center of power and also of population. Starting in the 12th century, Islam largely replaced the Hindu, Buddhist and anamist beliefs, and today the country is about 88% muslim, the most populous muslim nation. For the most part, however, this is an Islam without the more caustic customs of the Middle East, and in many areas the older beliefs have either survived or been combined with Islam. After centuries of Portugues and English trade and Dutch rule, there are also several Christian enclaves, and a signicant and influencial portion of the population is of Chinese origin with their own traditions.
When many westerners think of Indonesia, they are thinking of Bali, which has maintained a form of Hinduism and which has become a major tourist destination. It should be remembered, however, that Bali is only one small island, almost touching Javas southeast corner. Javanese have been known to refer to it as the 'after-birth'.
The official language of both Indonesia and Malaysia is known as 'bahasa', but there are differences in the way it is spoken between these nations and among the many cultures. Partly because of the isolation of islands and of mountain valleys, there were originally hundreds of languages scattered thoughout modern day Indonesia, and many of these survive, albiet waning.
Indonesia is part of the 'ring of fire' which borders much of the Pacific Ocean. Its southern and western rim is a line of mountains, many of them volcanic. Between eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis, this is a land of sequential catastrophies. Volcanic ash, however, has made much of the island terrain very fertile, while in the other sectors, such as Borneo, poor soils have led to a traditional slash-and-burn, nomadic form of agriculture.
The rain forests of Indonesia are blessed with an incredible variety of flora and fauna. Many inhabitants, however, do not share this view, thinking of the forests as an impediment. This, and rampant logging are rapidly destroying both flora and fauna, and also the way of life for many of the indigenous peoples. Due to corruption at all levels, little can be done to stop this, even where there is a will on the part of the bureaucrats.
The red line shows the appoximate boundaries of the area of focus in this Indonesian section.