The Republic of Indonesia (Republik Indonesia), is a unitary sovereign state and transcontinental country located mainly in Southeast Asia with some territories in Oceania. Situated between the Indian and Pacific oceans, it is the world’s largest island country, with more than seventeen thousand islands. At 735,358 square miles (1,904,569 square kilometers), Indonesia is the world’s 14th-largest country in terms of land area and world’s seventh-largest country in terms of combined sea and land area. It has an estimated population of over 260 million people and is the world’s fourth most populous country, The world’s most populous island, Java, contains more than half of the country’s population. Indonesia has 34 provinces, of which five have Special Administrative status. Its capital and country’s most populous city is Jakarta, which is also the most populous city in Southeast Asia and the second in Asia. The country shares land borders with Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and the eastern part of Malaysia. Other neighboring countries include Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, Australia, Palau, and the Indian territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Despite its large population and densely populated regions, Indonesia has vast areas of wilderness that support the world’s second highest level of biodiversity. The country has abundant natural resources like oil and natural gas, tin, copper and gold. Agriculture mainly produces rice, palm oil, tea, coffee, cacao, medicinal plants, spices and rubber. Indonesia’s major trading partners are Japan, United States, China and the surrounding countries of Singapore, Malaysia and Australia. Indonesia consists of hundreds of distinct native ethnic and linguistic groups. The largest — and politically dominant — ethnic group are the Javanese. A shared identity has developed, defined by a national language, ethnic diversity, religious pluralism within a Muslim-majority population, and a history of colonialism and rebellion against it. Indonesia’s national motto, “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” (“Unity in Diversity” literally, “many, yet one”), articulates the diversity that shapes the country.
The name Indonesia derives from the Greek name of the Indós (Ἰνδός) and the word nèsos (νῆσος), meaning “Indian island”. The name dates to the eighteenth century, far predating the formation of independent Indonesia. In 1850, George Windsor Earl, an English ethnologist, proposed the terms Indunesians — and, his preference, Malayunesians — for the inhabitants of the “Indian Archipelago or Malayan Archipelago”. In the same publication, one of his students, James Richardson Logan, used Indonesia as a synonym for Indian Archipelago. However, Dutch academics writing in East Indies publications were reluctant to use Indonesia; they preferred Malay Archipelago (Maleische Archipel); the Netherlands East Indies (Nederlandsch Oost Indië), popularly Indië; the East (de Oost); and Insulinde.
After 1900, “Indonesia” became more common in academic circles outside the Netherlands, and Indonesian nationalist groups adopted it for political expression. Adolf Bastian, of the University of Berlin, popularized the name through his book Indonesien oder die Inseln des Malayischen Archipels, 1884–1894. The first Indonesian scholar to use the name was Suwardi Suryaningrat (Ki Hajar Dewantara), when in 1913 he established a press bureau in the Netherlands, Indonesisch Pers-bureau.
Fossils and the remains of tools show that the Indonesian archipelago was inhabited by Homo erectus, known as “Java Man”, between 1.5 million years ago and 35,000 years ago. Homo sapiens reached the region by around 45,000 years ago. Austronesian peoples, who form the majority of the modern population, migrated to Southeast Asia from Taiwan. They arrived in Indonesia around 4,00 years ago, and as they spread through the archipelago, confined the indigenous Melanesian peoples to the far eastern regions.
Ideal agricultural conditions and the mastering of wet-field rice cultivation as early as the eighth century BCE, allowed villages, towns, and small kingdoms to flourish by the first century CE. Indonesia’s strategic sea-lane position fostered inter-island and international trade, including links with Indian kingdoms and China, which were established several centuries BCE. Trade has since fundamentally shaped Indonesian history.
From the seventh century CE, the powerful Srivijaya naval kingdom flourished as a result of trade and the influences of Hinduism and Buddhism that were imported with it. Between the eighth and tenth centuries CE, the agricultural Buddhist Sailendra and Hindu Mataram dynasties thrived and declined in inland Java, leaving grand religious monuments such as Borobudur, Sewu and Prambanan. This period marked a renaissance of Hindu-Buddhist art in ancient Java.
Around the first quarter of the tenth century, the center of the kingdom was shifted from Mataram area in Central Java to Brantas River valley in East Java by Mpu Sindok, who established the Isyana Dynasty. Subsequently, series of Javanese Hindu-Buddhist polities rise and fall, from Kahuripan kingdom ruled by Airlangga to Kadiri and Singhasari. In West Java, Sunda Kingdom was re-established circa 1030 according to Sanghyang Tapak inscription. In Bali, the Warmadewas established their rule on the Kingdom of Bali in the tenth century. The Hindu Majapahit kingdom was founded in eastern Java in the late 13th century, and under Gajah Mada, its influence stretched over much of Indonesia.
Although Muslim traders first traveled through Southeast Asia early in the Islamic era, the earliest evidence of Islamized populations in Indonesia dates to the thirteenth century in northern Sumatra. Other Indonesian areas gradually adopted Islam, and it was the dominant religion in Java and Sumatra by the end of the sixteenth century. For the most part, Islam overlaid and mixed with existing cultural and religious influences, which shaped the predominant form of Islam in Indonesia, particularly in Java.
The first regular contact between Europeans and the peoples of Indonesia began in 1512, when Portuguese traders, led by Francisco Serrão, sought to monopolize the sources of nutmeg, cloves, and cubeb pepper in Maluku. Dutch and British traders followed. In 1602, the Dutch established the Dutch East India Company (VOC), and in following decades, the Dutch gained foothold in Batavia and Amboina. Throughout seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the company became the dominant European power in the archipelago.
Following bankruptcy, the VOC was formally dissolved in 1800, and the government of the Netherlands established the Dutch East Indies as a nationalized colony. For most of the colonial period, Dutch control over the archipelago was tenuous outside of coastal strongholds; only in the early twentieth century did Dutch dominance extend to what was to become Indonesia’s current boundaries. Despite major internal political, social and sectarian divisions during the National Revolution, Indonesians, on the whole, found unity in their fight for independence. Japanese occupation during World War II ended Dutch rule, and encouraged the previously suppressed Indonesian independence movement.
A United Nations report stated that four million people died in Indonesia as a result of famine and forced labor during the Japanese occupation. Two days after the surrender of Japan in August 1945, Sukarno, an influential nationalist leader, declared independence and was appointed president. The Netherlands tried to reestablish their rule, and an armed and diplomatic struggle ended in December 1949, when in the face of international pressure, the Dutch formally recognized Indonesian independence (with the exception of the Dutch territory of West New Guinea, which was incorporated into Indonesia following the 1962 New York Agreement, and the UN-mandated Act of Free Choice of 1969).
Sukarno moved Indonesia from democracy towards authoritarianism, and maintained his power base by balancing the opposing forces of the military and the Communist Party of Indonesia (Partai Komunis Indonesia, PKI). An attempted coup on 30 September 1965 was countered by the army, which led a violent anti-communist purge, during which the PKI was blamed for the coup and effectively destroyed. Large-scale killings took place which targeted communists, ethnic Chinese and alleged leftists. The most widely accepted estimates are that between 500,000 and one million people were killed, with some estimates as high as two to three million.
The head of the military, General Suharto, outmaneuvered the politically weakened Sukarno and was formally appointed president in March 1968. His New Order administration was supported by the U.S. government. and encouraged foreign direct investment in Indonesia, which was a major factor in the subsequent three decades of substantial economic growth. However, the authoritarian “New Order” was widely accused of corruption and suppression of political opposition.
Indonesia was the country hardest hit by the late 1990s Asian financial crisis. This increased popular discontent with the New Order and led to popular protest across the country. Suharto resigned on May 21, 1998. In 1999, East Timor voted to secede from Indonesia, after a twenty-five-year military occupation that was marked by international condemnation of repression of the East Timorese.
Since Suharto’s resignation, a strengthening of democratic processes has included a regional autonomy program, and the first direct presidential election in 2004, which was won by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who went on to win a second term in 2009. Political and economic instability, social unrest, corruption, and terrorism slowed progress; however, in the last five years the economy has performed strongly. Although relations among different religious and ethnic groups are largely harmonious, sectarian discontent and violence have persisted. A political settlement to an armed separatist conflict in Aceh was achieved in 2005.
The Indonesia Post Administration formally established on September 27, 1945, but the history of Indonesian stamps began on April 1, 1864, when the first Dutch East Indies stamp was released. In general, the postal history of the region is divided in five periods:
- The Dutch East Indies
- Japanese Occupation
- The War of Independence
- The Beginning of Independence
- The New Order and Present
Details of the first two periods are covered in the A Stamp A Day article for Dutch Indies, published on November 26, 2016. These stamps are listed in the Scott catalogue under “Netherlands Indies”.
Following the surrender of Japan to the Allies in 1945, Indonesian nationalists declared independence on August 17, 1945, and formed the Republic of Indonesia. On September 27, the Djawan Post, Telegraph and Telephone (PTT) was established and assumed responsibility for the postal service. Within days, civil war had broken out between the nationalists and the returning Dutch, who sought to reestablish control over their East Indies colony.
During the hostilities, which lasted until December 1949, a Dutch blockade of the rebel strongholds in Java and Sumatra made regular communications between the two islands impossible, and the Djawan PTT was forced to organize separate postal services, using locally-produced stamps, on these islands. The first stamps released overprinted existing stock of Dutch Indies and Japanese Occupation stamps with various wording such as REPOEBLIK INDONESIA, REP. INDONESIA, REP. INDONESIA PTT, NRI, and RI. These first appeared in Java in November 1945 (Scott #1L1-22).
On December 1, 1945, a pair of stamps portraying a furious bull on the 10-sen denomination and a bull with an Indonesian flag on a 20-sen value to commemorate the first half-year of Indonesian independence (Scott #1L23-24). These were printed in Yogyakarta with single color and two colors using typography. Most of the Indonesian stamp in this period were printed and overprinted in Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Pematangsiantar, Padang, Palembang and Aceh.
The strong wish of Dutch to re-colonize Indonesia that had not yet been lost. After the failure of their military action they continued to harass independent Indonesia which tried to seek international support and recognition. One such effort got underway in 1948 with the printing of stamps in a revolutionary series by the Staats Druckerei, or Austrian State Printing Office and by the American E. W. Wright Banknote Co. of Philadelphia, printed using the methods of photogravure and steel engraving.
Those stamps printed by Staats Druckerei are usually described as the “Vienna” issues. The first of these was printed in December 1948, but supplies didn’t reach republican-held areas of Java and Sumatra until mid-January 1949. Through 1949, small supplies of these issues were sent to some 20 post offices in Java and Sumatra where they were used both for local mail and for mail to foreign destinations. This was carried through the Dutch blockade by overseas (largely Indian) air carriers.
Following independence, the Vienna stamp issues continued to be valid for postage for several years. While most covers on the market are philatelic in nature, commercial covers dated 1949-1953 exist.
In 1954, the first modern printer — Pertjetakan Kebajoran — was opened beginning in-county stamp printing. Local stamp designers were used, such as Amat bin Djupri, Kurnia & Kok, Junalies etc. During this period, the government ordered the stamp design and production to be undertaken by Pertjetakan Kebajoran, after which PTT had the responsibility to distribute the stamps to every post office in the country.
As the time drew near for the government to announce its First Five Years Plan, the government issued a relatively large number of stamps with many different themes. The general themes for stamps issued under the New Order were drawn from the national growth and development as related to social activities, art, culture and tourism.
Scott #B243 was released on May 20, 2005, as a semi-postal stamp with a label for the National Disaster Fund. The 300-rupiah surtax on the 1500-rupiah base denomination was intended to aid victims of the Boxing Day Tsunami which devastated the Andaman Sea region (and beyond) on December 26, 2004. As I arrived in Phuket, Thailand just two days before, I experienced the waves and the aftermath firsthand and wrote about the disaster in my ASAD article on December 26, 2016. The Indonesian stamp was printed using lithography and perforated 12½.
Indonesia recorded 130,736 confirmed deaths and more than 500,000 displaced persons as a result of the tsunami, these were confined almost entirely to the west and north coasts of northern Sumatra, particularly in Aceh province. This was the first area that was struck by the tsunami that morning. At Ulee Lheue in Banda Aceh, a survivor described three waves, with the first wave rising only to the foundation of the buildings. This was followed by a large withdrawal of the sea before the second and third waves hit. The tsunami reached shore 15–20 minutes after the earthquake which occurred at 00:58:53 UTC or 07:58:53 local time. The second was bigger than the first. This is the same as that in Khao Lak and Phuket Island here in southern Thailand. A local resident living at Banda Aceh stated that the giant wave was “higher than my house”. Another resident living 1.2 miles (2 km) nearer the coast on the outskirts of the city informed authorities that the tsunami was “like a wall, very black” in color and had a “distinct sound” getting louder as it neared the coast.
The maximum runup height of the tsunami in Indonesia was measured at a hill between Lhoknga and Leupung, located on the west coast of the northern tip of Sumatra, near Banda Aceh. This reached more than 100 feet (30 meters).
The tsunami height on the Banda Aceh coast was lower than half of that on the west coast. Even within the Banda Aceh coast, the tsunami height was reduced by half from 39.4 feet (12 m) at Ulee Lheue to 19.7 feet (6 m) a further 5 miles (8 km) to the northeast. The inundation was observed to lie 1.86-2.49 miles (3–4 km) inland throughout the city. Flow depths over the ground were observed to be over 29.5 feet (9 m) in the seaside section of Ulee Lheue and tapered landward. The level of destruction was more extreme on the northwestern flank of the city in the areas immediately inland of the aquaculture ponds. The area toward the sea was wiped clean of nearly every structure, while closer to the river — dense construction in a commercial district showed the effects of severe flooding. The flow depth was just at the level of the second floor, and there were large amounts of debris piled along the streets and in the ground-floor storefronts. One of the reasons seems to be that there is an archipelago between Lhoknga and Banda Aceh. Within 1.24-1.86 miles (2–3 km) from the shoreline, houses, except for strongly-built reinforced concrete ones with brick walls, which seemed to have been partially damaged by the earthquake before the tsunami attack, were completely swept away or destroyed.
Lhoknga, a town located on the western side of Sumatra, 8.08 miles (13 km) southwest of Banda Aceh was completely flattened and destroyed by the tsunami, where its population dwindled from 7,500 to 400. The tsunami waves were almost 30 meters (98.4 feet) high. Eyewitnesses reported 10 to 12 waves, the second and third ones being the highest. The sea receded 10 minutes after the earthquake and the first wave came rapidly landward as a turbulent flow (flood) with depths ranging from 0.5 to 2.5 meters (1.64 ft-8.20 feet) high. The second and third waves were 15–30 meters (49.2-98.4 feet) high at the coast and described as having the appearance of a surf wave (cobra-shaped) but “taller than the coconut trees” and was “like a mountain”. Consequently, the tsunami also stranded cargo ships and barges and destroyed a cement factory near the Lampuuk coast.
Other towns on Aceh’s west coast hit by the disaster included Leupung, Lhokruet, Lamno, Patek, Calang, Teunom, and the island of Simeulue. Affected or destroyed towns on the region’s north and east coast were Pidie Regency, Samalanga, Panteraja and Lhokseumawe.
The very high fatality in the area was mainly due to the unpreparedness of the population from such an event. Helicopter surveys showed entire settlements virtually destroyed with destruction miles inland with only some mosques left standing, which provided refuge for the people from the tsunami.