The first people in Indonesia arrived about 40,000 years ago when sea level was lower and it was joined to Asia by a land bridge. Then at the end of the last ice age about 10,000 BC a new wave of people came. At first they hunted animals, collected shellfish and gathered plants for food. By about 2,500 BC they learned to grow crops such as taro, bananas, millet and rice. The early farmers also made pottery but all their tools were made of stone.
However by 700 BC the Indonesians had learned to make bronze and iron. Furthermore at that time wet rice cultivation was introduced. Indonesian villages were forced to co-operate to regulate the supply of water to their fields. In time organized kingdoms emerged.
From about 400 BC Indonesians traded with other nations such as China and India. Hinduism and Buddhism were also introduced to Indonesia and they took route.
By the 8th century AD Indonesian civilization was flourishing. Among the kingdoms was a Hindu kingdom in central Java called Sailandra. There was also the great Buddhist kingdom of Sriwijaya in south Sumatra. From the 7th century to the 13th century Sriwijaya prospered and it became a maritime empire controlling western Java and part of the Malay Peninsula. It was also a centre of Buddhist learning. However in the 13th century the Sriwijaya Empire broke up into separate states.
Meanwhile Islam was brought to Indonesia by Indian merchants. It first gained a toehold in Aceh in north Sumatra and in following centuries it spread through the rest of Indonesia.
However in the 13th and 14th centuries a Hindu kingdom flourished. It was called the Majapahit Empire. It was founded in 1292 and soon rose to dominate most of Indonesia. However in the early 15th century the Majapahit Empire went into a rapid decline.
At first independent Indonesia was a parliamentary democracy. However, in February 1957 President Sukarno introduced a new political system, which he called ‘Guided Democracy’. The power of parliament was reduced and his own power was greatly increased. His opponents formed a separate ‘parliament’ called the PRRC (the Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Indonesia). However, the army remained loyal to Sukarno and he stayed in power. Meanwhile, in October 1957 the army took over the remaining Dutch companies in Indonesia. As a result, the army grew wealthy.
Then in the early 1960s the economy faltered. There was very rapid inflation. In September 1965 the Communists attempted a coup in Indonesia. They murdered a number of generals. They also seized strategic points in Jakarta. However, General Suharto quickly took action. The coup was crushed. Suharto was granted powers by President Sukarno to restore order. After the coup, Suharto arrested and executed a large number of communists. However Sukarno lost support and on 11 March 1966, he signed over his presidential powers to Suharto. From 1966 Suharto ruled as a dictator (although there were elections held every five years democracy was a facade). However, Suharto brought stability and under him, the economy of Indonesia recovered.
From the 1960s reserves of oil in Indonesia were exploited. After 1973 Indonesians benefited from the high price of oil. Agriculture also became far more productive. However many Indonesians remained poor and in 1997 Indonesia was hit by a financial crisis. As a result, the economy contracted. Indonesia was hit by riots and Suharto resigned in May 1998. Democracy returned to Indonesia with elections, which were held in 1999.
At the beginning of the 21st century the Indonesian economy began to recover. Today the economy of Indonesia is growing steadily. Today the population of Indonesia is 261 million.