Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world with a total number of 17,508 islands and is located on a crossroad between two oceans, the Pacific and the Indian oceans, and bridges two continents, Asia and Australia.
The Indonesian sea area is four times greater than its land area, which is about 1.9 million sq. km. The sea area is about 7.9 million sq. km (including an exclusive economic zone) and constitutes about 81% of the total area of the country. The five main islands are: Sumatra, Java/ Madura (the most fertile and densely populated islands), Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Papua (the world?s second largest island).
Climate and Weather
Indonesia is a tropical country with fairly even climate all year round. The climate and weather is characterized by two tropical seasons, which vary with the equatorial air circula-tion (the Walker circulation) and the meridian air circulation (the Hardley circulation).
The displacement of the latter follows the north-south movement of the sun and its relative position from the earth, in particular from the continents of Asia and Australia, at certain periods of the year. These factors contribute to the displacement and intensity of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) which is an equatorial trough of low pressure that produces rain. Thus, the west and east monsoons, or the rainy and dry seasons, are a prevalent feature of the tropical climate.
The Main Seasons
The seasons in Indonesia are roughly divided into two distinct seasons, 'wet' and 'dry'. The climate changes every six months, the dry season (June to September) which is influenced by the Australian continental air masses and the rainy season (December to March) which is the result of the Asian and Pacific Ocean air masses. Tropical areas have rains almost the whole year through. The heaviest rainfalls are usually recorded in December and January.
The transitional periods between the two seasons are April to May and October to November. The transitional period between these two seasons alternates between gorgeous sun-filled days and occasional thunderstorms.
Indonesia contains one of the world?s most remarkable geographical boundaries in its distribution of animals. This geographical separation explains why the tropical animal species of Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan do not exist in Papua. For the same reason, the kangaroo of Papua is missing in the other region. Maluku, Sulawesi and the Lesser Sunda Islands, which lie between the Sunda and Sahul shelves, have a strikingly different fauna. Most of the eastern faunas do not exist in Sulawesi even though this island is close to Kalimantan, being just across the Makassar Strait. Similarly, the animal species of Papua are not found on Seram and Halmahera, Papua?s closest neighbors.
The orangutan, which literally means "jungleman" (Pongo pygmaeus) and only lives in the jungles of Sumatra and Kalimantan, is specific to western Indonesia fauna. Meanwhile, the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), is specific to eastern Indonesia fauna. This world?s largest lizard can grow to 3 meters long. Papua and Maluku are rich in colorful birds, varying from the big and unable-to-fly cassowaries (Casuarius) and the brilliantly-plumaged birds of paradise that belong to the family of Paradiseidae and Ptilinorhynhidae and number more than 40 species, to a large variety of birds from the parrot family. Other members of Indonesia?s fauna include the hornbill bird, or "rangkong/enggang" of the Bucerotidal family, which is noted for its enormous horn-tipped beak.
The rich flora of Indonesia includes many unique varieties of tropical plant life in various forms. Rafflesia Arnoldi, which is found only in certain parts of Sumatra, is the largest flower in the world. From the same area in Sumatra comes another giant, Amorphophallus tatinum, the largest inflorescence of its kind. The insect trapping pitcher plant (Nepenthea spp) is represented by different species in many areas of western Indonesia. The myriad of orchids is rich in species, varying in size from the largest of all orchids, the tiger orchid or Grammatophyllum Speciosum, to the tiny and leafless species of Taeniophyllum which is edible and taken by the local people as a medicine and is also used in handicrafts.
Indonesia?s flora also abounds in timber species. The dipterocarp family is renowned for its timber (meranti), resin, vegetable oil and tengkawang or illipe nuts. Ramin, a good-quality timber for furniture, is produced by the Gonystylus tree. Sandalwood, ebony, ulin and Palembang timber are other valuable forest products. Teakwood is a product of man-made forests in Java.
The Komodo reptile (Varanus komodoensis) has been designated as Indonesia National Animal, the red freshwater Liluk/arwana (Scleropage formosus) as the Fascinating Animal and the flying Elang Jawa (Javan Hawk Eagle, Spizaetus barteisi) as the Rare (endangered) species. These decisions complement the previous designation of Indonesia?s national flowers.
Indonesia came under the influence of a mighty Indian, civilization through the gradual Influx of Indian traders in the first century AD, when great Hindu and Buddhist empires were beginning to emerge. By the seventh century, the powerful Buddhist Kingdom of Sriwijaya was on the rise, and it is thought that during this period the spectacular Borobudur Buddhist temple was built in Central Java. The thirteenth century saw the dominance of the fabulous Majapahit Hindu Empire in East Java, which united the whole of modern-day Indonesia and parts of the Malay peninsula, ruling for two centuries.
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 religion until the end of the 16th century. A series of small Moslem kingdoms sprouted up and spread their roots, but none anticipated the strength and persistence of European invasions which followed. In 1292, Marco Polo became one of the first Europeans to set foot on the Islands, but it wasn?t until much later that the Portuguese arrived in pursuit of spices. By 1509 Portuguese had established trading posts in the strategic commercial center of Malacca on the Malay Peninsula. Their fortified bases and the inability of their enemies to unify against them allowed the Portuguese to control strategic trade routes from Malacca to Macau, Goa, Mozambique and Angola.
Inspired by the success of the Portuguese, the Dutch followed at the turn of the 16th century. They ousted the Portuguese from some of the easternmost islands, coming into conflict with another major European power, Spain, which had focused its colonial interests in Manila. The Dutch expanded their control of the entire area throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Dutch East Indies, as it was known at this tune, 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 in 1816, a period of relative peace was interrupted by a series of long and bloody wars launched by the local people against the Dutch colonial government.
The Indonesian nationalist and independence movements of the 20th century have their roots in this period. Upper and middle class Indonesians, whose education and contact with Western culture had made them more aware of colonial injustice, began mass movements which eventually drew support from the peasants and urban working classes. The Japanese replaced the Dutch as rulers of Indonesia for a brief period during World War II. The surrender of the Japanese in 1945 signaled the end of the Second World War in Asia and the start of true independence for Indonesia. With major changes in global consciousness about the concepts of freedom and democracy, Indonesia proclaimed its independence on the 17th of August of that same year.
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, officially recognizing Indonesia?s sovereignty over the former Dutch East Indies.
The staple food of most of Indonesia is rice. On some of the islands in eastern Indonesia, staple food traditionally ranged from corn, sago, cassava to sweet potatoes, though this is changing as rice becomes more popular. Fish features prominently in the diet: fresh, salted, dried, smoked or paste. Fish is abundant and of great variety: lobster, oyster, prawns, shrimp, squid, crab, etc.
Spices and hot chilli peppers are the essence of most cooking, and in some areas they are used generously such as in West Sumatra and North Sulawesi. Each province or area has its own cuisine.
Art and Culture
Indonesia is blessed with a rich and diverse mix of traditional cultures and art forms. The basic principles which guide life across this colorful tapestry of life-styles include the concepts of mutual assistance or "gotong royong" and communal meetings and gatherings or "musyawarah" to arrive at a consensus or "mufakat".
Social life, as well as rites of passage, is steeped in ancient traditions and customs, or "adat" laws, which differ from area to area. "Adat" laws have a binding impact on Indonesian life and have been instrumental in maintaining equal rights for women in the community.
Art forms in Indonesia are not only derived from folklore, as in many other parts of the world. Many were developed in the courts of former kingdoms, as in Bali, where they are integral elements of religious ceremonies. The famous dance dramas of Java and Bali are derived from Hindu mythology and often feature fragments from the Ramayana and Mahabharata Hindu epics.
The Performing Arts
Music, dance and drama are very often intertwined, as in the ludruk transvestite theatre of East Java and the lenong folk theatre of Jakarta, both known for their slapstick humor and early Shakespearean simplicity in their stage settings.
An important form of indigenous theatre is puppetry, of which the most celebrated is the wayang kulit shadow play of Java. These plays are magical and mysterious, and have often been seen as roads to the true heart and soul of Javanese culture. They are performed with leather puppets held by the puppeteer (dalang), who narrates the story of one of the famous episodes of the Mahabharata or the Ramayana. The play is performed against a white screen, while a lantern in the background casts the shadows of the characters on the screen.
The puppet theatre has many forms and employs a variety of media. In West Java, for example, the most popular form is the Wayang Golek, using carved and painted three dimensional wooden puppets. Both the Wayang Kulit and Wayang Golek take their repertoire from the classical Indian epics but in Central Java, the wooden puppet theatre traditionally revolves around stories derived from popular folk legends and the spread of Islam. A popular contemporary form of wayang theatre is the Wayang Wong, is which actors or dancers represent the characters in the story, presented on a conventional stage.
The crafts of Indonesia vary in both medium and style. As a whole the people are artistic by nature and express themselves with canvas and paint, wood, metal, clay and stone. Indonesian artists create some of the finest wood-carvings to be found anywhere in the world. Paintings of an infinite variety, both traditional and contemporary, are to be found all over the country.
The silverwork and engravings of Yogyakarta and Sumatra, and filigree of South Sulawesi are famous throughout Indonesia. The batik process of waxing and dyeing originated in Java centuries ago and classic designs have been modified with modern trends in both pattern and technology.
There are several batik centers on Java, the major ones being Yogyakarta, Surakarta, Pekalongan and Cirebon. Batik is also being produced In Bali, where local designs are incorporated. Artists in West Sumatra and Kalimantan produce hand-woven cloths with gold and silver threads, silk, and cotton of fantastically intricate design. On the islands of Sumba and Flores you can find the traditional ikat, a type of weaving with hand-dyed threads.
Summarized from: http://www.indonesianembassy.org.uk/aboutIndonesia/indonesia.html