The first known hominid inhabitant of Indonesia was the so-called Java Man, or Homo erectus, who lived there half a million years ago. Around 60,000 years ago the ancestors of the present-day Papuans move eastward through the islands, eventually reaching New Guinea and Australia about 30,000 to 40,000 years ago. They were followed by the ancestors of the modern-day Malays, Javanese and other Malayo-Polynesian groups who now make up the majority of Indonesias population.
Trade contracts with India, China and the mainland of Southeast Asia brought outside cultural and religious influences to Indonesia. One of the first Indian empires, Sriwijaya, was located on the coast of Sumatra around the strategic Straits of Malacca, serving as the hub of a trading network that reached to many parts of the archipelago more than a thousand years ago.
On neighbouring Java large powerful Hindu-Javanese kingdoms, such as the 14th century Majaphit Empire, held sway over the island. These empires erected magnificent religious monuments that included Borobudur, the largest Buddhist monument in the world. They also controlled and influenced much of what is now known as Indonesia, maintaining contacts with trading outposts as far away as the west coast of Papua New Guinea.
Indian Muslim traders began spreading Islam in Indonesia in the eighth and ninth centuries. By the time Marco Polo visited North Sumatra at the end of the 13th century the first Islamic states were already established there. Soon afterwards rulers on Javas north coast adopted the new creed and conquered the Hindu-based Majapahit Empire in the Javanese hinterland. The faith gradually spread throughout the archipelago and, today, Indonesia is the worlds largest Islamic nation.
Indonesias abundant spices first brought Portuguese merchants to the key trading port of Malacca in 1511. Prized for their flavour spices, such as cloves, nutmeg and mace, were also believed to cure everything from the plague to venereal disease, and were literally worth their weight in gold.
The Dutch began to colonise Indonesia in the early 17th century. They wrested control of the spice trade from Portuguese, and the tenacious Dutch East India Company established a spice monopoly, which lasted into the 18th century. During the 19th century the Dutch began sugar and coffee cultivation on Java, which was soon providing three-fourths of the world supply of coffee.
Japan occupied the islands from 1942 to 1945. Indonesia declared its independence after Japans surrender on 17 August 1945. However, it required four years of intermittent negotiations, recurring hostilities and United Nations mediation before the Netherlands agreed to transfer sovereignty in 1949. Indonesias first free parliamentary election, after decades of repressive rule, took place in 1999.
Indonesia is now the worlds third-largest democracy, the worlds largest archipelagic state, and home to the worlds largest Muslim population.
Note: Extra reading on the history of Indonesia from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/History_of_Indonesia