Indonesia, officially the Republic of Indonesia, is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 17,508 islands. It has 34 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world’s fourth most populous country. Indonesia is a republic, with an elected legislature and president. The nation’s capital city is Jakarta. The country shares land borders with Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and Malaysia. Other neighboring countries include Singapore, Philippines, Australia, Palau, and the Indian territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Indonesia is a founding member of ASEAN and a member of the G-20 major economies. The Indonesian economy is the world’s sixteenth largest by nominal GDP and fifteenth largest by purchasing power parity.

The Indonesian archipelago has been an important trade region since at least the 7th century, when Srivijaya and then later Majapahit traded with China and India. Local rulers gradually absorbed foreign cultural, religious and political models from the early centuries CE, and Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms flourished. Indonesian history has been influenced by foreign powers drawn to its natural resources. Muslim traders brought Islam, and European powers brought Christianity and fought one another to monopolize trade in the Spice Islands of Maluku during the Age of Discovery. Following three and a half centuries of Dutch colonialism, Indonesia secured its independence after World War II. Indonesia’s history has since been turbulent, with challenges posed by natural disasters, corruption, separatism, a democratization process, and periods of rapid economic change.

Across its many islands, 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 majority Muslim 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. 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, yet poverty remains widespread.

Indonesian provinces and their capitals, listed by region

Ethnic groups in Indonesia

There are over 300 ethnic groups in Indonesia. 95% of those are of Native Indonesians ancestry. The largest ethnic group in Indonesia is the Javanese who make up 41% of the total population. The Javanese are concentrated on the island of Java but millions have migrated to other islands throughout the archipelago because of the transmigration program. The Sundanese, Malay, and Madurese are the next largest groups in the country. Many ethnic groups, particularly in Kalimantan and Papua, have only hundreds of members. Most of the local languages belong to Austronesian language family, although a significant number, particularly in Papua, speak Papuan languages. The Chinese Indonesian population makes up a little less than 1% of the total Indonesian population according to the 2000 census. Some of these Indonesians of Chinese descent speak various Chinese dialects, most notably Hokkien and Hakka.

The classification of ethnic groups in Indonesia is not rigid and in some cases unclear due to migrations, cultural and linguistic influences; for example some may consider Bantenese and Cirebonese to be members of Javanese people, however some others argue that they are different ethnic groups altogether since they have their own distinct dialects. This is the same case with Baduy people that share many cultural similarities with the Sundanese people. An example of hybrid ethnicity is the Betawi people, descended not only from marriages between different peoples in Indonesia but also with Arab and Chinese migrants since the era of colonial Batavia (Jakarta).

The proportions of Indonesian ethnic groups according to the (2000 census) are as follows:

The map of native ethnic groups in Indonesia, foreign origin ethnic groups such as Chinese, Arab and Indian are not shown, but usually inhabit urban areas.
Ethnic GroupsPopulation (million)PercentageMain Region
Javanese83.86641.71Central Java, East Java, Yogyakarta, Jakarta, Lampung
Sundanese30.97815.41West Java, Banten, Jakarta, Lampung
Malay6.9463.45Sumatra eastern coast (North Sumatra, Riau, Riau Islands, Jambi, South Sumatra) and West Kalimantan
Madurese6.7723.37Madura island, East Java
Batak6.0763.02North Sumatra
Minangkabau5.4752.72West Sumatra, Riau
Betawi5.0422.51Jakarta, Banten, West Java
Bugis5.0102.49South Sulawesi, East Kalimantan
Banjarese3.4961.74South Kalimantan, East Kalimantan
Sasak2.6111.3West Nusa Tenggara
Makassarese1.9820.99South Sulawesi
Cirebonese1.8900.94West Java, Central Java

Indigenous Ethnicities

The regions of Indonesia have some of their indigenous ethnic groups. Due to migration within Indonesia (as part of government transmigration programs or otherwise), there are significant populations of ethic groups who reside outside of their traditional regions.
  • Java: Javanese, Sundanese, Bantenese, Betawi, Tengger, Osing, Badui
  • Madura: Madurese
  • Sumatra: Malays, Batak, Minangkabau, Acehnese, Lampung, Kubu
  • Kalimantan: Dayak, Banjar
  • Sulawesi: Makassarese, Buginese, Mandar, Minahasa, Gorontalonese, Toraja, Bajau
  • Lesser Sunda Islands: Balinese, Sasak, Sumbawa, Dawan, Tetun, Helong, Roti, Savu, Sumba, Alor, Flores
  • The Moluccas: Alfur, Nuaulu, Manusela, Wemale
  • Papua: Dani, Bauzi, Asmat, Amungme

Foreign Ethnicities

Throughout Indonesian history, waves of migration of foreign origin ethnicites were spread throughout Indonesia, usually inhabit urban centers and seldom reach rural parts of Indonesia.
  • Chinese: The most significant foreign origin ethnic minority in Indonesia. Chinese began inhabiting Indonesia since 15th century with significant waves in 18th and 19th century. Mostly concentrated in pecinan (chinatowns) in urban Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan, with significant numbers in Jakarta, Medan, Semarang, Surabaya, Cirebon, Pekanbaru, Batam, Bangka island and Pontianak in West Kalimantan.
  • Arabs: Historically Arab traders were credited for the spread of Islam in Indonesian archipelago. Many have assimilated into local ethnicities such as Betawi, Malay, Javanese, and Sundanese; however several cities in Indonesia have significant Arabs that preserve their culture, identity, and their links to Arabia. Spread throughout Indonesian cities, yet significant numbers can be found in Surabaya, Gresik, Jakarta, Medan and many coastal cities in Indonesia.
  • Indian: Indian people also had settled the Indonesian archipelago, however their number is not as large as that of Chinese Indonesians. Concentrated in urban centers with significant numbers around Pasar Baru in Jakarta, and Kampung Keling in Medan.
  • Indos: Indos or Eurasians, of mixed ancestry between the Indonesian native ethnic group and European/Dutch ancestry, they emerge during the Dutch East Indies. Around one million Indonesians with various degree of mixed ancestry today can trace their ancestry to the Europeans. During the colonial time their number where more, but since the Indonesian independence some chose to return to the Netherlands. Eurasian Indonesians dwindle as an ethnic group since major emigration from Indonesia after World War II.
  • Japanese: Japanese has migrated to Indonesia since the Dutch East Indies colonial era; however, after their defeat in World War II their number decreased, leaving small numbers of ex-Japanese soldiers that still stayed in Indonesia and became Indonesian citizens. The recent development of Japanese residents in Indonesia was driven by the increase of Japanese business and investment in Indonesia since 1970s, and mostly are expatriates that still maintain their Japanese citizenship. Significant numbers of Japanese expatriates stay in Indonesia, especially in Jakarta and Bali.
  • Korean: They are the recent addition of Indonesian foreign origin ethnicities, dated back only several decades ago. Mostly driven by the increase of Korean business and investment in Indonesia, and mostly are expatriates that still maintain their Korean citizenship


The name Indonesia derives from the Latin and Greek Indus, and the Greek nèsos, meaning “island”. The name dates to the 18th 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, a student of Earl’s, James Richardson Logan, used Indonesia as a synonym for Indian Archipelago. However, Dutch academics writing in East Indies publications were reluctant to use Indonesia. Instead, they used the terms Malay Archipelago (Maleische Archipel); the Netherlands East Indies (Nederlandsch Oost Indië), popularly Indië; the East (de Oost); and Insulinde.
After 1900, the name 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 he established a press bureau in the Netherlands with the name Indonesisch Pers-bureau in 1913.


Fossils and the remains of tools show that the Indonesian archipelago was inhabited by Homo erectus, popularly known as the “Java Man”, between 1.5 million years ago and as recently as 35,000 years ago. Homo sapiens reached the region by around 45,000 years ago. In 2011 evidence was uncovered in neighbouring East Timor, showing that 42,000 years ago these early settlers had high-level maritime skills, and by implication the technology needed to make ocean crossings to reach Australia and other islands, as they were catching and consuming large numbers of big deep sea fish such as tuna.
Austronesian peoples, who form the majority of the modern population, migrated to South East Asia from Taiwan. They arrived in Indonesia around 2000 BCE, and as they spread through the archipelago, pushed the indigenous Melanesian peoples to the far eastern regions. Ideal agricultural conditions, and the mastering of wet-field rice cultivation as early as the 8th century BCE, allowed villages, towns, and small kingdoms to flourish by the 1st 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.

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