Our Voices

Photo of A Short History of a Sliver of Indonesia’s Past

Sterling Roszel on August 3rd, 2012 @ 09:11 AM No comments

Most everyone that knows me knows that I was born and raised in Indonesia. Indonesia is a country in Southeast Asia that spans an area the size of the continental United States and is made up of 17,000 islands. It sits on the equator and as you can imagine, is made up of thousands of different cultures which have had the opportunity to develop unique and separate identities due to the fact that for the most part the cultures were isolated from one another. Indonesia is rich in its history and natural resources which are sought after even today. We can also claim to be the country responsible for making the food you eat today taste so good, as we are home to the spice islands called the Malacca’s which were so sought after by the Europeans once the region had been discovered initially by the Portuguese then taken over by the Dutch.

The Dutch colonized Indonesia for 300 years and under their reign they controlled a monopoly on the spices going back and forth between the Malacca’s and Europe. This monopoly was controlled by the Dutch East Indies Company from 1602 to 1798 when authority was turned over to the government of the Netherlands.

During the Second World War the Dutch were forced to pull out of Indonesia because their forces were required back in the Netherlands to fend for their own country against the invading Nazi’s and Japan took the opportunity to invade Indonesia and occupy for 3 years. It is a common saying in Indonesia that those 3 years under Japanese rule was far worse than 300 years under Dutch rule. The Japanese forces were so brutal to Indonesians that we as a peaceful nation joined forces across all 17,000 islands and rose up in revolt, fighting back against the Japanese with all our might. Once the Japanese were defeated in the war on August 14th, 1945, Indonesia claimed its independence only to see the Dutch return to try to reclaim our country as their colony. As one can imagine, the fires in our hearts were still burning and the first taste of freedom in over 300 years was not something we were going to let go. So we fought, and we fought hard – again – just this time against the Dutch Empire for four more years, until the Netherlands’ recognition of Indonesia’s independence in 1949. Many people don’t know that this was one of the largest revolutions of the twentieth century and the struggle lasted for over four years, involving sporadic but bloody armed conflict, internal Indonesian political and communal upheavals, and two major international diplomatic interventions.

Dutch forces were not able to prevail over the Indonesians, but were strong enough to resist being expelled. They were essentially able to control the major cities on the islands of Java and Sumatra, but had no reign over the rural areas. To this day I still know many Dutch people that decided to stick around and live in Indonesia to enjoy its beauty, warmth, and culture. Although many have passed away, their children stayed and are now second-generation from when we gained our independence.

I consider both the Republic of Indonesia and the United States of America to be my homes. When I return to see my family I yearn to stay. Island life runs slower and more relaxing than the fast-paced life we know here. I suggest to anyone interested in taking a vacation that they will truly, truly, enjoy to experience the islands of Bali, Java, Lombok, Gili – the list goes on and on; I mean, c’mon, there are 17,000 islands to choose from! Enjoy the white sand beaches and the warm, crystal blue waters and you will truly experience heaven on earth.

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