Indonesia Population - History

Indonesia Population - History

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245,452,739 (July 2006 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years: 28.8% (male 35,995,919/female 34,749,582)
15-64 years: 65.8% (male 80,796,794/female 80,754,238)
65 years and over: 5.4% (male 5,737,473/female 7,418,733) (2006 est.)
Median age:
total: 26.8 years
male: 26.4 years
female: 27.3 years (2006 est.)
Population growth rate:
1.41% (2006 est.)
Birth rate:
20.34 births/1,000 population (2006 est.)
Death rate:
6.25 deaths/1,000 population (2006 est.)
Net migration rate:
0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2006 est.)
Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.77 male(s)/female
total population: 1 male(s)/female (2006 est.)
Infant mortality rate:
total: 34.39 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 39.36 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 29.17 deaths/1,000 live births (2006 est.)
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 69.87 years
male: 67.42 years
female: 72.45 years (2006 est.)
Total fertility rate:
2.4 children born/woman (2006 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate:
0.1% (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS:
110,000 (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths:
2,400 (2003 est.)
Major infectious diseases:
degree of risk: high
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A and E, and typhoid fever
vectorborne diseases: dengue fever, malaria, and chikungunya are high risks in some locations
note: highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza has been identified among birds in this country or surrounding region; it poses a negligible risk with extremely rare cases possible among US citizens who have close contact with birds (2007)
noun: Indonesian(s)
adjective: Indonesian
Ethnic groups:
Javanese 45%, Sundanese 14%, Madurese 7.5%, coastal Malays 7.5%, other 26%
Muslim 88%, Protestant 5%, Roman Catholic 3%, Hindu 2%, Buddhist 1%, other 1% (1998)
Bahasa Indonesia (official, modified form of Malay), English, Dutch, local dialects (the most widely spoken of which is Javanese)
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 87.9%
male: 92.5%
female: 83.4% (2002 est.)


Indonesia is the world's largest archipelago, straddling the equinox and formed by 17,670 islands. Its national territory stretches from Australia to Southern Asia and is the fourth most populous country after the People's Republic of China, India, and the United States.

Indonesia's population of nearly 200 million experienced a diminishing growth rate of 1.82 percent in the period 1990-1995, when compared to its 2.32 percent growth rate the previous decade (1971-1980). Although the population growth will decrease, the total population of Indonesia is expected to increase from 195.7 million in 1995 to 242.6 million in 2020. The World Bank estimates a continuing decrease in population growth, to less than one percent in 2015-2020. The decrease is attributable to the nation's proactive family planning efforts. National literacy rates have progressed rapidly since Indonesia's independence on 17 August 1945, in spite of natural impediments such as the nation being made up of 400 distinct ethnic groups and the fact that more than two-thirds of the population live in rural areas. In 1930, less than six percent of the population was literate, while the 1990 census data reveals an 84 percent literacy rate of those over 10 years of age.

Corresponding to the advancements in literacy is the change in the Indonesian labor force as characterized by the continuous decrease of employment opportunities in the area of agriculture and an increasing demand for knowledge and skills in industry. The structural shift in the economy has generated new challenges and demands affecting the education system. According to the 1987 Survey of the National Labor Force, 70 percent of the labor force had not been educated beyond primary school level, inadequate for a society approaching the era of modernization. However, the 1990 population census shows a growing tendency toward higher education within the labor force. Likewise, over the past 25 years, the number of pupils more than doubled for primary school, rose four and a half times for the junior secondary school, eight times for the senior secondary schools, and about 10 times for higher education. Such growth has resulted in a more educated population and labor force.

In June 1993, UNESCO awarded President Suharto with the Avicenna Medal (Ibnu Sina Award), recognizing Indonesia for implementing its universal education program for 7 to 12 year olds in a much quicker way when compared to other developing countries. Jacques Hallak from the Institute for Educational Planning, UNESCO, wrote in 1990 that "higher level industrial countries with better social economic conditions like the United States and other developed West European countries like France, Germany and England needed 60 to 100 years to accomplish universalization of basic education."

Early Settlement

Since 9,500 years before present, around the prehistoric era, the oldest written historical reference to the Priangan region in the 14th century. It was found in what used to be one of the settlement within the Kingdom of Pajajaran. Few earlier prehistoric archaeological findings of early human settlements was found in Pawon cave in Padalarang karst area, West of Bandung.

Then, there are also few around the old lake of Bandung. In Rancaekek area, Bandung district, east of Bandung city, the ruin of Bojongmenje temple was discovered and estimated to be dated from early 7th century CE, around the same with Dieng temples of Central Java period. Though, there are assumption that say it can be even earlier than that.

Indonesia’s 250 million strong population live across 17,508 islands. The diverse country, in the world’s largest archipelago, is home to hundreds of distinct ethnic groups, and hundreds of local dialects. Despite being hit hard by an economic and political crisis in 1998, Indonesia has achieved most of the development targets set in the Millennium Development Goals, and is now well underway to incorporate the Sustainable Development Goals into the national development planning.

Indonesia declared independence in 1945. UNDP has been operating in Indonesia since 1954 through the UN Technical Assistance Board, and a standard agreement on operational assistance between the Government of Indonesia and UNDP was signed in 1969.

Indonesia has made significant progress in sustainable development. From 1970 to 2010, Indonesia was one of the top ten biggest upward movers in UNDP’s Human Development Index. Between 2000 and 2015, the proportion of Indonesians living below the national poverty line fell from 19 per cent to less than 11 per cent.


The country has experienced significant economic growth in the last two decades, and its middle class continues to expand. Indonesia is now categorized as lower middle-income, and between 2009 and 2013 annual GDP growth was 5.8 percent. With a rising middle class expected to reach 135 million people by 2020, the country is challenged with widening inequality.

Indonesia has more than 28 million people still living below the national poverty line and many more do not have access to basic social services. In Papua and West Papua, poverty rates are twice the national average. Between 2002 and 2013, income inequality increased by 24 percent. Large sections of the population lack access to basic services, with 68 percent – mainly those in urban centers – having access to safe drinking water, and 61 per cent to sanitation. Women continue to have lower access to education, employment and services.

Long term development in Indonesia is jeopardized by environmental degradation and climate change. Much of the country’s economic growth has been driven by the extraction of natural resources at the expense of the environment. Indonesia is also one of the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases and the deforestation rate is one of the highest in the world.

The challenge therefore is for Indonesia to generate the growth it needs to cut poverty and inequality and at the same time protect its natural resources and its long term development prospects.

Indonesia continues to be a rising power both in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the G20, and has Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, with a Gross Domestic Product of $861,9 billion in 2015.

The world’s fourth most populous nation is now its 16th biggest economy and has been projected to be among the world’s top ten largest by 2025.

Indonesia’s 2015 Human Development Index value of 0.689 represents a remarkable progress from 0.474 in 1980, reflecting considerable improvements in life expectancy, access to education, and incomes.

Indonesia is spread across an archipelago of many thousands of islands, however, no one can really agree on just how many there are. Some islands appear only at low tide, and different surveying techniques yield different counts.

The Indonesian government claims 17,504 islands, but a three-year survey conducted by Indonesia only found 13,466 islands. The CIA thinks Indonesia has 17,508 islands — that's down from the estimated 18,307 islands counted by the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space back in 2002.

Of the estimated 8,844 islands that got named, only around 922 are thought to be permanently settled.

The segregation and island isolation made culture less homogeneous across the country. As a traveler, you can change islands and be treated to a relatively new experience on each with different dialects, customs, and special foods.

4. Jakarta in New Orde

Jakarta Special Capital Region (DKI Jakarta), is the city capital of the Republic of Indonesia. Then, Jakarta is the only city in Indonesia which has the equivalent status of the province . Jakarta is located on the northwest coast of the island of Java . It was once known as:

  • Sunda Kelapa (before 1527)
  • White Rose ( 1527 -1619 )
  • Batavia / Batauia, or Jaccatra (1619-1942)
  • Jakarta Tokubetsu Shi (1942-1945)
  • Djakarta (1945-1972).

Internationally Jakarta also has nicknames like J-Town or the more popular The Big Durian because it is considered comparable to cities like New York City ( Big Apple ) in Indonesia.

Jakarta has a width of ​​approximately 664.32 km², with a population of 10,385,795 inhabitants based on 2011 census. The metropolitan area of Jakarta ( Jabodetabek ) has about 28 million people, it is the largest metropolis in Southeast Asia or second in the world.

As a central hub of business office, politicals centers, and culture icon, Jakarta is a base to the many headquarter office of state-owned corporation, private companies and foreign dignitaries. It is also housed the central building of the government institutions and the office of the secretariat of ASEAN. Jakarta is served by two airports, namely Soekarno-Hatta and Halim Perdanakusuma airport, as well as three sea ports in Tanjung Priok, Sunda Kelapa, and Ancol.


Like all volcanic eruptions, Krakatoa’s can be traced to the movement of the tectonic plates that make up the Earth’s crust, which are constantly moving against each other over the thick liquid layer, or mantle, beneath.

Indonesia is located at the heart of a so-called subduction zone, where the Indo-Australian Plate collides with part of the Asian Plate (Sumatra) as it moves northward.

As a heavier oceanic plate, the Indo-Australian slides underneath the lighter, thicker continental plate (Sumatra), and the rock and other materials that slide with it heat up as it dives below the Earth’s surface. Molten rock (or magma) from below rushes upward through this channel, forming a volcano.

In 1883, each of the three distinct peaks of Krakatoa served as an exit route for the enormous magma chamber deep below it. Analysis suggests that during an earlier eruption, debris clogged the neck of Perboewatan, and pressure then built up below the blockage.

After the initial explosion split the magma chamber, and the volcano began to collapse, seawater came into contact with the hot lava, creating a cushion of explosively hot steam that carried the lava flows up to 25 miles at speeds of up to 62 mph.

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The increasing Dutch dominance over Java did not come without resistance. When the Dutch colonial authorities decided to build a road on the land of prince Diponegoro (who was appointed as guardian of the throne of Yogyakarta after the sudden death of his half-brother), he rebelled, supported by a majority of the Javanese population in Central Java and turned it into a jihad war. This war lasted from 1825 to 1830 and resulted in the deaths of approximately 215,000 people, mostly on Javanese side. However, when the Java War was over - and prince Diponegoro captured - the Dutch were more dominant on Java than ever before.

The Cultivation System on Java

Competing British traders, the Napoleonic wars in Europe, and the Java War implied a big financial burden on the Dutch kingdom's budget. It was decided that Java should become a major source of revenue for the Dutch and therefore Governor-General Van den Bosch ushered in the era of the 'Cultivation System' in 1830. This system meant a Dutch monopoly on the cultivation of export crops on Java.

Moreover, it were the Dutch who decided what type of crops (and in what quantity) had to be delivered by the Javanese peasants. Generally it meant that Javanese peasants had to hand over one-fifth of their harvests to the Dutch. In return, the peasants received an arbitrarily fixed compensation in cash which basically had no relation to the value of the crop on the world market. The Dutch and Javanese officials received a bonus when their residency delivered more crops than on previous occasions, therefore stimulating top-down intervention and oppression. On top of this compulsory cultivation of crops and traditional corvee-labor services, Raffles' land tax still applied as well! The Cultivation System turned out to be a financial success. Between 1832 and 1852 around 19 percent of total Dutch state income was generated from the Javanese colony. Between 1860 and 1866 this figure reached around 33 percent.

Initially, the Cultivation System was not dominated by the Dutch authorities only. Javanese power holders and private European as well as Chinese entrepreneurs joined in as well. However, after 1850 - when the Cultivation System was reorganized - the Dutch colonial state became the dominant player. But these reorganizations also opened doors for private parties to start exploiting Java. A process of privatization commenced in which the colonial state gradually transferred export production to Western entrepreneurs.

The Liberal Period of Colonial Indonesia

More and more voices were heard in the Netherlands that rejected the Cultivation System and supported a more liberal approach for foreign enterprises. This rejection of the Cultivation System was both for humane and for economic motives. Around 1870 Dutch liberals had won their battle in Dutch parliament and successfully eliminated some of the characteristic features of the Cultivation System, such as the cultivation percentages and the compulsory use of land and labour for export crops.

These liberals paved the way for the introduction of a new period in Indonesian history, known as the Liberal Period (circa 1870 to 1900). This period is marked by a huge influence of private capitalism on colonial policy in the Dutch Indies. The colonial state now more or less played the role of supervisor in relations between Western enterprises and the rural Javanese population. But - although liberals claimed that the benefits of economic growth would trickle down to the local level - Javanese farmers suffering from hunger, famine and epidemics were just as common in the Liberal Period as under the Cultivation System.

The 19th century is also known as the century in which the Dutch made substantial geographical expansion in the archipelago. Driven by the New Imperialism-mentality, European nations were competing for colonies outside the European continent for both economic motives and status. One important motive for the Dutch to expand its territory in the Archipelago - apart from financial benefit - was to prevent other European countries from taking parts of this region. The most famous and prolonged battle during this period of Dutch expansion was the Aceh War that started in 1873 and lasted until 1913, resulting in the deaths of more than 100,000 people. The Dutch would, however, never have full control over Aceh. But the political integration of Java and the Outer Islands into one single colonial polity had largely been achieved by the start of the 20th century.

The Ethical Policy and Indonesian Nationalism

When the borderlines of the Dutch Indies began to take the shape of present-day Indonesia, Dutch Queen Wilhelmina made an announcement in her annual speech in 1901 informing that a new policy, the Ethical Policy, would be launched. The Ethical Policy (acknowledging that the Dutch had a debt of honour towards the Indonesians) was aimed at raising the living standards of the native population. The means to accomplish this was direct state intervention in (economic) life, promoted under the slogan &lsquoirrigation, education and emigration&rsquo. This new approach would, however, not prove to be a significant success in raising the living standards of Indonesians.

This Dutch Ethical Policy implied one profound and far-reaching side effect. Its educational component contributed significantly to the awakening of Pan-Indonesian nationalism by providing Indonesians the intellectual tools to organize and articulate their objections to colonial rule. The Ethical Policy provided a small Indonesian elite with Western political ideas of freedom and democracy. For the first time the native people of the Archipelago began to develop a national consciousness as 'Indonesians'.

In 1908 students in Batavia founded the association Budi Utomo, the first native political society. This event is often regarded as the birth of Indonesian nationalism. It established a political tradition in which cooperation between the young Indonesian elite and the Dutch colonial authorities was expected to lead to acquiring some degree of independence.

The next chapter in the development of Indonesian nationalism was the founding of the first mass-based political party, the Sarekat Islam (Islamic Union) in 1911. Initially, it was formed to support the indigenous entrepreneurs against the dominating Chinese in the local economy but it expanded its scope and developed a popular political consciousness with subversive tendencies.

Other important movements that led to the unfolding of indigenous political thinking in the Dutch-Indies were the Muhammadiyah, an Islamic reformist socio-religious movement founded in 1912 and the Indonesian Association of Social Democrats, a communist movement founded in 1914 that spread Marxist ideas through the Dutch Indies. Internal disunity in the latter would later lead to the formation of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in 1920.

Initially, the Dutch colonial authorities permitted the establishment of indigenous political movements but when Indonesian ideologies radicalized in the 1920s (as seen in the communist uprisings in West Java and West Sumatra in 1926 and 1927) the Dutch authorities changed course. A relative tolerant regime was replaced with a repressive one in which every suspected act of subversive behaviour was suppressed. This repressive regime in fact only worsened the situation by radicalizing the entire Indonesian nationalist movement. Part of these nationalists established the Indonesian Nationalist Party (Partai Nasional Indonesia, abbreviated PNI) in 1927 as a reaction to the repressive regime. Its goal was full independence for Indonesia.

Another important occasion for Indonesian nationalism was the declaration of the Youth Pledge in 1928. At this congress of youth organizations three ideals were proclaimed, to wit: one motherland, one nation, and one language. The main aim of this congress was to stimulate a feeling of unity between the young Indonesians. On this congress the future national anthem (Indonesia Raya) was played and the future national flag (merah-putih) was shown for the first time. The colonial authorities reacted with another act of suppression. Young national leaders, such as Soekarno (who would become Indonesia's first president in 1945) and Mohammad Hatta (Indonesia's first vice president) were arrested and exiled.

Japanese Invasion of the Dutch Indies

The Dutch were powerful enough to curb Indonesian nationalism by arresting its leaders and suppressing the nationalist organizations. But never were they able to eliminate nationalist sentiment among the Indonesian people. The Indonesians, on the other hand, did not have the power to combat the colonial rulers and therefore needed outside help to eliminate the colonial system.

In March 1942 the Japanese, fueled by their desire for oil, provided such help by occupying the Dutch Indies. Although initially welcomed as liberators by the Indonesian population, Indonesians would soon experience the hardship of the Japanese rule: scarcity of food, clothing and medicines as well as forced labour under harsh conditions. The scarcity of food was mainly caused by administrative incompetence, turning Java into an island of hunger. Indonesians working as forced labourers (called romusha) were stationed to work on labour-intensive construction projects on Java.

When the Japanese took over, Dutch officials were thrown in internment camps and were replaced by Indonesians to administer government tasks. The Japanese educated, trained and armed many young Indonesians and gave their nationalist leaders a political voice. This enabled the nationalists to prepare for a future independent Indonesian nation. In the final months before Japan's surrender, effectively ending World War II, the Japanese gave full support to the Indonesian nationalist movement. Political, economic and social dismantling of the Dutch colonial state meant that a new era was about to emerge. On 17 August 1945 Soekarno and Hatta proclaimed the independence of Indonesia, eight days after the Nagasaki atomic bombing and two days after Japan lost the war.

Different Perceptions of Indonesia's Colonial Period

There basically exist three "histories", or more accurately, three versions of Indonesia's colonial period:

1) Indonesian version
2) Dutch version
3) Academic version

It should be emphasized, however, that within each of these three groups - Indonesians, the Dutch, and academics (in this case mainly historians), - there exists plenty of variety. But we can discern three broad versions.

What separates the Indonesian and Dutch versions from the academic version is clear: the Indonesian and Dutch versions are colored by specific sentiments and/or political interests, while the academic version aims to deliver an objective and accurate version, not based on sentiments but on evidence (sources). The reader may now wonder which version he/she read just now? Well, the overview of Indonesia's colonial period that is presented above is a synopsis of the academic version. However, it is interesting to provide some information about the Indonesian and Dutch versions. With these versions we mean the general consensus and views that are shared by the people (this includes the ordinary people but also government officials, and those who wrote the history books for the younger generations, etc.) in each nation.

Obviously, the Indonesian and Dutch versions have a lot in common. However, due to both sides' involvement in this colonial history there exist some differences that can be attributed to sentiments and political interests.

Indonesian Perceptions

For example, when you talk to an Indonesian individual about the colonial period (whether the individual is highly educated or uneducated) he/she will say that Indonesia was colonized by the Dutch for three and a half centuries. What is wrong with this statement? First of all, it supposes that Indonesia already was a unified nation in the late 1500s or early 1600s. However, in reality the country we now know as Indonesia was a patchwork of independent indigenous kingdoms that lacked a feeling of brotherhood or nationalist sentiment or any other sense of unity. In fact, wars between these kingdoms - either inter or intra island - were the rule rather than the exception.

Secondly, the whole area we now know as Indonesia was not conquered by the Dutch around the same time and then possessed for 3.5 centuries. On the contrary, it took centuries of gradual political expansion before the region was under Dutch control (and in several parts Dutch control was very superficial, such as Aceh). In fact, only around the 1930s the Dutch more-or-less possessed the whole area that we now know as Indonesia. Some parts indeed were colonized for 3.5 centuries (for example Batavia/Jakarta and parts of the Moluccas), other parts were dominated by the Dutch for some two centuries (such as most of Java) but most other parts of this huge archipelago were gradually conquered over the course of the 19th and early 20th century, and in many regions natives never saw a Dutch person.

So, why does there exist the view that (the whole of) Indonesia was colonized by the Dutch for three and half centuries? The answer is politics. As becomes clear from the synopsis above, Indonesian nationalism was driven by the realization among the young and diverse people of the archipelago (whatever their ethnic, cultural or religious background was) that they had one common enemy: the Dutch colonial power. Having this enemy is basically what unified the native people of Indonesia. This also explains why - after the enemy was completely gone in 1949 - there emerged a prolonged and chaotic period in Indonesian politics and society between 1949 and 1967. With the enemy gone, all the underlying differences between the people of Indonesia came to the surface resulting in rebellions, calls for separatism, and impossible decision-making on the political level. Only when a new authoritarian regime, Suharto's New Order, took control, chaos disappeared (and, again, at the expense of human rights).

After Independence from the Dutch, the Indonesian government needed to keep the Indonesian nation unified. One smart strategy was by creating this common 3.5 century colonial history that was shared by all people in the Indonesian nation. If the Indonesian people would realize that they did not have the same history it would jeopardize the unity of Indonesia, especially in the fragile 1940s and 1950s.

In recent years, there start to become more and more Indonesians who are aware of this issue and argue that without the colonial period there would - most likely - not have developed a single Indonesian nation but more likely there would have been various separate nation states in line with the distribution of the old native kingdoms and empires in the Archipelago.

Dutch Perceptions

The Dutch also have plenty of reason to portray a colonial history that is different from reality. The Netherlands of the last couple of decades is a country that emphasizes the importance of human rights and this does not exactly match its 'rich' colonial history. Therefore, the violent nature of its colonial history is often not mentioned. Instead, the VOC period forms a source of national pride to the Dutch knowing that - despite being this tiny European country - it became the world's richest country in the 17th century (Dutch Golden Age), not only in terms of trade and military but also in terms of art and science.

An interesting example is when former Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende became annoyed during a discussion with the Dutch House of Representatives in 2006. Responding to the House's pessimistic views of the Dutch economic future, Balkenende said "let us be optimistic, let us be positive again, that VOC mentality, looking beyond borders." It is an example of selective memory that signals the sense of pride that stems from the VOC period. It is fair to mention that this statement of Balkenende met criticism in the Netherlands.

On the other hand, there are plenty of examples that illustrate that the Dutch are in fact aware of the violent history (including slavery) that were key to turn the Netherlands into one of the world's most advanced nations. For example, statues in the Netherlands that glorify people from the VOC period and the government-led colonial period - such as Jan Pieterszoon Coen and J.B. van Heutsz - have either been removed or are criticized by the local Dutch population.

Another interesting case is the apology that was made by Dutch ambassador to Indonesia Tjeerd de Zwaan in 2013. He apologized for the "excesses committed by Dutch forces" between 1945 and 1949, the first ever general apology. However, the Dutch government has never apologized for all violent events that occurred before 1945! When Dutch King and Queen Willem-Alexander and Maxima visited Indonesia in early 2020, Willem-Alexander stutteringly apologized for the violence in the 1945-1949 period.

It took many decades before such excuses were made (and they only cover the period after 1945). It is assumed that Dutch officials did not want to make apologies because it could offend the Dutch veterans (who risked their lives in Indonesia in name of their country) and the relatives of the soldiers who died in the period '45 -'49, while probably fear of the financial consequences of an excuse also played a role.

In conclusion, it seems that both Indonesian and Dutch perceptions are slowly moving toward the academic version because high emotions (whether resentment or pride) gradually wane as time goes by, while Indonesia's domestic political situation is stable and therefore there is less need to create one common history throughout the archipelago.

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The owner of the building, Rudi C., 56, is a Jewish convert of Uyghur Christian ethnicity who has offered the Jewish community a space to pray and congregate. “We got this wooden divider made in Indonesia, but the local craftsmen weren’t able to understand that this design was actually that of the Magen David [Star of David]. It looked like a regular star to them, so it wasn’t a problem,” explains Rudi. (Like other members of the community interviewed here, Rudi C.’s full name has been withheld at his request.)

A dimly lit winding staircase leads to the shul, with a mezuzah affixed by the door. A spacious apartment has been converted into a prayer room and features two large stainless steel menorahs that the community ordered from a local manufacturer in Indonesia. The holy ark and lectern were made in Java, with a blue parochet from Israel.

In a corner near the entrance is a wooden and silver tzedakah box that was also made in Java. According to the rabbi, the Torah in this shul had previously belonged to a synagogue in Pennsylvania but was originally sourced from Israel. Cabinets in the room are lined with prayer books that, like everything else, has been collected from around the world — including Brooklyn, Perth, Vietnam and Singapore.

Despite the secrecy surrounding this building, it is not Indonesia’s only synagogue. In 2003, Shaar Hashamayim was built in Tondano City, North Sulawesi — making it the country’s only purpose-built shul. That community numbers some 20 people, but they were reluctant to draw attention to themselves and declined to be interviewed for this article, citing tensions over Indonesia’s general election this week.

Each time the Israel-Palestine conflict flares up, the Jewish community of Indonesia worries the conflict will be used by radicals and politicians to stir discontent against the local community. In 2009, for example, the synagogue in Surabaya was closed after riots following fighting in Gaza.


At 9:30 A.M., members of the community start filling up the room, placing their shoes in one corner and placing kippas on their heads only once the shul doors are firmly closed. Rudi’s wife, Riya, 36, brought her daughter, Sharon, 13, and son, Refael, 4, along for Shabbat prayers. “I don’t let my son wear the kippa outside and he tells his friends at school he is Christian. It’s not safe,” says Riya in Bahasa Indonesia, the official language of the country. She converted to Judaism along with her husband in 2012.

The members of the community say the suburb where the shul is located is a hotbed for Islamic extremism within the Jakarta metropolitan area, and that the social and political situation could become dangerous for the community at any time.

Riya specifically reiterates her request to not make the shul’s location public. “They’ll come and destroy everything, and wreak havoc here,” she warns. Her husband’s workplace is in the same building and she is concerned for his safety, she says.

“Our Jewish faith is not for public consumption. It’s not because we are scared, but we have to be super-careful because three out of every 10 Muslim men are radicalized,” says the rabbi, noting that radical evangelicals have also harassed the community.

Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population and although specific data about the number of radicals is not known, it has battled extremist activity since its independence from the Netherlands 70 years ago.

A few members of Indonesia’s Jewish community are converts, while others are descendants of Dutch Jews who had married local Indonesians and have recently returned to the faith.

In her research into the community while studying for her doctorate at the University of Haifa, Dr. Ayala Klemperer-Markman traced the arrival of Jews in the region to the 17th century, when they arrived as clerks and traders as part of the Dutch East India Company. “The first written report on Jews in Indonesia, familiar to us today, was written by Jacob Halevy Saphir (1822–1886), who was sent as a rabbinical emissary from Jerusalem and arrived in the archipelago in 1861,” Klemperer-Markman wrote.

“In his book, Saphir reports the existence of approximately 20 ‘Ashkenazi’ Jewish families from Holland in Batavia [today Jakarta], in Surabaya and in Semarang, but expresses his concern for their future since they do not conduct Jewish traditions and many are married to non-Jewish women,” Klemperer-Markman added.

Congregants praying at the monthly Shabbat service in the suburb of Jakarta Neha Banka

The Holocaust led other European Jews to seek refuge in Indonesia. However, during the Japanese occupation of the islands in 1942, the Jews were forced into internment camps. Prof. Rotem Kowner, a professor of Japanese history at the University of Haifa, notes that German pressure on the Japanese government during World War II forced the Jewish population into interment, which was then amplified due to “anti-Semitic tendencies among the local population and anti-Semitic tendencies among certain Japanese groups that served as part of the occupying forces in Indonesia.”

“You must understand the history behind this hostility” toward Jews, says Meijer Verbrugge. “We are all Dutch descendants. People call us bastards because our grandfathers occupied Indonesia. So we face two kinds of problem: One is our Dutch heritage the other is the anti-Jewish sentiment. ‘You are Jewish, you are Dutch, you are the son of a bastard,’ they say. There is one solution to all our problems [according to the assailants]: convert to Islam.”

Driving on Shabbat

A few years before and after Indonesia’s declaration of independence in 1945 (which was finally recognized by the Dutch four years later), most of its Jewish population emigrated to Australia and the United States, with others going to Israel. “In Israel, most are now organized in the Tempo Dulu Foundation that was established by Suzy Lehrer in the 1990s,” says Meijer Verbrugge, rushing around the room in his prayer shawl, making last-minute arrangements before prayers are scheduled to start.

Although electronics aren’t permitted during Shabbat, the rabbi places his phone on the lectern and around 50 people from across the Indonesian archipelago and East Timor join the service through a video conferencing app.

“In Judaism, we are allowed to pick the rules for humanity. So I can break the rule of no electronics on Shabbat but help as many people pray as I can,” he explains. Members of the community drive to shul to gather for prayers, as this is the only way they can gather as a community in Indonesia. Meijer Verbrugge is unapologetic about breaking the transportation rule. “Maybe you can [honor] that in Israel, but you can’t do that in Indonesia. I am telling [the community] not to be afraid to think differently,” he says.

With prayers about to start, community members gather in the room and the men put on their prayer shawls. The congregants open their copies of the siddur, which have been translated from Hebrew to Bahasa Indonesia by the United Indonesia Jewish Community (established in 2010).

After prayers, the community gathers for a kosher Indonesian meal. A few years ago, the community asked Rabbi David Kunin from the Jewish Community of Japan to provide guidance regarding the laws of kashrut. While a few upscale supermarkets in Jakarta sell kosher-certified products imported from Australia and other countries, there are few shops where the community can conveniently buy kosher products.

Like other Diaspora communities, the Jewish community of Indonesia has incorporated local food culture into its religious practices. Over a meal of kosher-certified nasi uduk (a local dish of steamed rice in coconut milk), 40-year-old Enik H., a real estate agent who divides her time between Thailand and Indonesia, talks about the challenges she has faced converting to Judaism. Enik is Muslim, but is converting to Orthodox Judaism under the supervision of Meijer Verbrugge. (Like other members of the community interviewed, Enik’s full name has been withheld at her request.)

“My boyfriend is an Orthodox Jew from New York and he wants me to convert to Orthodox Judaism,” laughs Enik. Adds Meijer Verbrugge: “I told her that I support her decision, but it will be a very long process. She has been here [in the community] for one and a half years.”

Enik explains that when she prays every Shabbat, “I pray softly because my mother is Muslim. Sometimes she’ll find me praying and ask what I’m doing. She knows that every Shabbat I [light] the candle and cook for myself.”

Her mother knows about her Jewish boyfriend, but she doesn’t know Enik is in the process of converting. “Every Shabbat she finds me baking challah. Sometimes people will come to our home and ask if they can eat the challah. My mother doesn’t understand what the rituals are and says ‘No, no, this is for sacrifice and prayers!’” adds Enik, explaining that her mother thinks the challah is used for sacrifice purposes, common in Javanese folk religious tradition. “I think my mother accepts it, but she doesn’t really know what I’m doing. She’ll ask, ‘What is this Jewish?’”

The American parents of Enik’s boyfriend don’t have a problem with her converting to Orthodox Judaism, she says. “They ask me, ‘Are you sure you want to become Jewish?’ I’ve come to this conclusion regarding my Orthodox Jewish boyfriend: That I might not marry him, but I’ll marry another Jewish man.”

Two major challenges

Interfaith marriage between Muslims and Jews is not uncommon in Indonesia due to the historical presence of both religions in the country. Meijer Verbrugge’s father, for instance, was a Muslim who fell in love with the rabbi’s Dutch Jewish mother. But that was before the 1990s, when Indonesians could hold civil marriages without the need for a religious certificate. “My parents didn’t get married in a mosque or synagogue,” relates Meijer Verbrugge. “They went to the civil office. In the 1990s, the government started requiring religious certificates along with the marriage certificate when people wanted to get married.

“Now we face two major issues: civil marriage certificates and building permits. Every building needs a permit. But if you build something, they’ll ask what it is called — so what if we want to build a synagogue?” the rabbi adds, leaving his own question unanswered.

Meijer Verbrugge explains that the community members try to practice their faith circumventing government laws and impositions in whatever way they can.

Burying the dead is another major challenge since the community doesn’t have a separate cemetery in Indonesia. “Our community had two Russian Jews, and a few years before their death they discussed that they wanted to be buried in a Catholic cemetery and chose their own spot pointing in the direction of Jerusalem,” Meijer Verbrugge recalls.

The best thing the local community can do, he says, is to not worry about being “mixed” in with other groups in burial grounds. The only concessions they are allowed is to choose the graves’ direction, like the two Russian Jews, and having tombstones that feature a Magen David symbol and a few Hebrew letters.

“We want recognition from the government and society and no persecution of minorities, including Jews. If the existence of the Jewish community is publicly known, we believe there will be persecution,” says Ferriy R., 54, who works as a building manager.

The community is also aware that, sooner or later, its existence in the country will become widely known. But Ferriy says he fears that radical Muslims and fundamentalist evangelicals have complicated the existing challenges of living in Indonesia. “They are not ready to accept diversity. Indonesia has these rules for religion, but the reality is different,” he says.

The community is constantly concerned about sociopolitical developments. “The political situation and ideology can change in a matter of minutes in Indonesia, with the country becoming Sharia and people becoming fanatics. What should I do then? Pray? Read the Torah?” Meijer Verbrugge asks.

Shabbat is nearly over and community members solemnly gather around a table for Havdalah, marking its end. They are aware that several rules of religious observance haven’t been strictly followed. But for this small Jewish community, being able to meet at all in these challenging times takes precedence over all else. For now, they are just doing everything they can to preserve their heritage and faith.

Neha Banka is a freelance journalist based in Kolkata, India, who writes about Asia, women’s rights, religion and culture.


The largest economy in Southeast Asia, Indonesia – a diverse archipelago nation of more than 300 ethnic groups – has charted impressive economic growth since overcoming the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s.

Today, Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous nation, the world’s 10th largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity, and a member of the G-20. Furthermore, Indonesia has made enormous gains in poverty reduction, cutting the poverty rate by more than half since 1999, to 9.78% in 2020. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, Indonesia was able to maintain consistent economic growth, recently qualifying the country to reach upper middle income status.

Indonesia’s economic planning follows a 20-year development plan, spanning from 2005 to 2025. It is segmented into 5-year medium-term plans, called the RPJMN (Rencana Pembangunan Jangka Menengah Nasional) each with different development priorities. The current medium-term development plan – the last phase of the long-term plan – runs from 2020 to 2024. It aims to further strengthen Indonesia’s economy by improving the country’s human capital and competitiveness in the global market.

Considerable development challenges remain in Indonesia. In addition, the global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic brings unprecedented complications for Indonesia to achieve its development goals.

Between March and September 2020, official statistics reported an increase in the national poverty rate from 9.78% to 10.19%, translating into an increase in the number of poor from 26.42 million to 27.55 million, out of a population of 270.2 million – turning back three years of progress in poverty reduction.

Furthermore, although Indonesia was able to reduce the stunting rate to 27.7% in 2019, more remains to be done. Such efforts are critical to ensure Indonesia’s strong and productive human capital. At the moment, according to the World Bank's Human Capital Index, Indonesia's next generation will only be 54% as productive as it could have been with full health and complete education.

To respond to the shock of the COVID -19 pandemic, the government implemented emergency fiscal packages equivalent to 3.8% of GDP (actual spending) in 2020 and to 4.2% of GDP (tentative data as of March 18, 2021) in 2021, to deal with the health impact, provide relief to households and firms, and support the vaccine roll-out, and the recovery. T. The World Bank is supporting the Indonesia’s COVID-19 emergency response, including enhancing social assistance and health care systems, while also strengthening the resilience of the financial sector.

The partnership between Indonesia and the World Bank has evolved over six decades to become one of the Bank’s most significant in terms of lending, knowledge services and implementation support. Since 2004, World Bank support for Indonesia has moved towards supporting a country-led and country-owned policy agenda, consistent with Indonesia’s status as a middle-income country.

In December 2015, after broad consultations with government, civil society, and the private sector, the Board approved the 2016-2020 Country Partnership Framework (CPF) for Indonesia, aligned with the priorities of Indonesia’s medium-term development plan, the RPJMN.

The CPF strategy’s main objective was supporting the government of Indonesia to: eliminate extreme poverty, generate prosperity, and reduce inequality. The strategy was organized around six engagement areas which were supported by two pillars.

2. Sustainable and universal energy access

3. Maritime economy and connectivity

4. Delivery of local services

6. Collecting more and spending better

1. Leveraging the private sector

2. Shared prosperity, equality, and inclusion

Relatedly, as part of the country’s engagement approach, the Systematic Country Diagnostics (SCD) for Indonesia has recently been updated. This document provides the analytical foundation for the upcoming Country Partnership Framework for the 2021 – 2025 period, which is currently being prepared.

Promoting human capital is an important priority for Indonesia. The National Strategy to Accelerate Stunting Prevention – prepared based on advice from the World Bank and supported by the Investing in Nutrition and Early Years (INEY) Program – has reduced the national stunting rate by a record-breaking 3.1 percentage points in its first year by incentivizing a “whole-of-government” approach to bringing nutrition services to millions of pregnant women and children under two across the country.

The World Bank supports the government’s Family Hope Program or Program Keluarga Harapan (PKH), which strives to end the cycle of poverty among the poorest. In addition to cash benefits to incentivize beneficiary families in utilizing maternal and children related health and nutrition services and sending their children to schools, the program also provides family development sessions and learning materials to beneficiary mothers so that they can gain a better understanding of health and nutrition, good parenting practices, child protection, and financial management. The program has assisted families to improve their children’s education and health as shown by several impact evaluations. A recent study shows that the cumulative impact of PKH can reduce stunting by around 9 percentage points, which means that the probability of children aged 0 to 60 months being stunted declines by 23%. On the education outcomes, PKH is able to solve the last-mile enrollment problem for children aged 7-15, by eliminating more than half of nonenrolment. Since 2017, the government has expanded the program significantly in both coverage and benefit levels and in 2020, the program reached 10 million poor and vulnerable families. Most recently, the Bank supported the government’s COVID-19 response to poor households through US$98 million under Additional Financing for Indonesia's Social Assistance Reform Program for top-up of cash transfers to existing PKH beneficiaries under a new temporary emergency scheme.

Promoting human capital is an important priority for Indonesia, and the Bank is helping improve education quality in remote areas. The KIAT Guru pilot empowered communities and ties allowance payment to teachers’ performance. The program was implemented in over 400 schools. The pilot’s impact evaluation and qualitative study found the pilot significantly improved learning outcomes and parental engagements compared to non-pilot schools. The Bank is supporting the Ministry of Education and Culture to sustain the pilot independently. In 2020, the Ministry issued a regulation for affirmative school operational funds for 55,115 remote schools serving remote and disadvantaged communities. The Ministry also adapted the pilot’s digital diagnostic learning assessment for nation-wide utilization.

The World Bank is also supporting the government’s PAMSIMAS program to provide clean water and sanitation services. Active across 33 provinces and almost 23,000 villages, PAMSIMAS is a collaboration between local governments and communities, and widely considered to be the most cost-effective option for scaling up water and sanitation services. Between 2006 and the end of 2018, 17.2 million have benefited from access to improved water facilities, and 15.4 million people with access to basic and improved sanitation.

Transparency plays a crucial role in the administration of good governance. To improve transparency and public participation on state budget spending, with a support from Public Financial Management – Multi Donor Trust Fund, the World Bank has assisted the Ministry of Finance to develop a mobile application that can be accessed by millions of citizens from their smartphones at anytime and anywhere. This mobile application is designed to inform citizens about the central government’s budget and public money being spent for delivering services, including the budget to combat COVID-19 pandemic.