Java is “undoubtedly the most fertile, the most productive and the most populous island within the tropics” declared famous 19th century British naturalist Alfred Wallace. Stunningly beautiful, from the air the island of Java is a patchwork of spectacular lush green vistas of terraced green rice fields, forests and tea and coffee plantations, climbing from valleys to mountain slopes. Imposing volcanic cones exhale wisps of smoke, and picturesque villages peek among the green.
Among this lush scenery, the amazing Borobudur stupa on a hill commands serene surroundings. While mainly along the coast are busy cities : Jakarta, Surabaya, Semarang , but also located inland, Bandung , Yogyakarta and Solo – cities filled with modern high rise towers, and people and people everywhere.
From centuries past, powerful kingdoms have risen and fallen, leaving precious heritage of sophisticated civilizations, wise philosophical thoughts, masterful monuments, and enduring arts and crafts. Since the first century AD international trade thrived with India and China, and since the arrival of Europeans in the 16th. century, Java became the entrepot in the Asian and European sea trade.
Java is the home of Batik, the Wayang shadow puppets, the Keris dagger, all of which UNESCO declared World Cultural Heritage. The 8th.Buddhist temple Borobudur and adjacent 9th century Hindu temple, Prambanan, have similarly been declared World Heritage sites. While in the westernmost corner of Java, the sprawling Ujung Kulon-Krakatau Nature Reserve was Indonesia’s first National Park, conserved habitat for the near extinct Java one-horned rhino. While East Java was the seat of the 14th century mighty Majapahit Kingdom which reigned over the archipelago.
With no less than 38 volcanoes on this island, – from the Krakatau volcano in the west to Mt. Merapi in Central Java, to Mt. Bromo and Mt. Semeru – Java’s highest mountain in the east, Java is made fertile through the lava and minerals spewed through the ages by numerous eruptions. Combined with abundant sunshine and tropical rains, it is small wonder that European settlers have wondered in awe how just by planting a stick into the soil, this will soon bloom and grow fruit.
Java’s volcanoes run along the southern spine of the island, clustering in the west, and becoming more sparse toward the east. Rivers run from the south to north, where the Brantas and the Solo rivers meander around mountains first before finally flowing out into the Java Sea.
In 1699 the Cibodas nature reserve of West Java produced the first coffee beans for export to Europe, so that today Java has become synonymous to Coffee. …. Who invented the Java computer language was said to have been inspired to adopt Java as brand name when sipping a lovely cup of coffee on the island.
Center of Government, Trade and Finance
This is Java, the island that stretches lengthwise from west to east, that together with its famous neighbor, Bali, sits right on the edge of the Asian continental shelf, below which the Indo-European oceanic plate collides into the Indo-Australian plate.
Java is the fifth largest island in the Indonesian archipelago that comprises 17,504 large and small islands. Java comprises five provinces. They are the provinces of Banten, the capital city Jakarta, West Java, Central Java, the Special Region of Yogyakarta and East Java.
Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta, lies on the north-western coast of Java, and is inhabited by 9 million people. The Dutch East India Company and later the Dutch Government made Batavia (present day Jakarta) and the island of Java their stronghold in the East Indies, present day Indonesia.
Jakarta is where on 17 August 1945 Indonesia declared her Independence from the yoke of Dutch colonialism. This huge, modern metropolitan city is today the seat of government of the Republic of Indonesia, and the country’s center of finance and trade. Today Jakarta is a cosmopolitan city and is at the forefront of Indonesia’s modern life that include music, cinema and architecture. Jakarta’s original inhabitants are known as “Betawi” derived from the Dutch name for the capital, erstwhile Batavia.
There are three original ethnic groups on Java, they are the Sundanese in West Java, the Javanese in Central and East Java, and the Madurese on the island of Madura, now in the province of East Java. Nowadays, however, due to the fact that the island of Java was the center of the nationalist movement against Dutch colonialism, and today the center of administration, trade and industry, Java and especially Jakarta has become the melting pot of nearly all ethnic groups within the Republic of Indonesia.
Due to the highly developed infrastructure, both road and rail network as well as airports and flights, in addition to power and water supply and telecommunications networks, it is small wonder that Java attracts more and more people. Today over 60% of Indonesia’s total population lives on this island.
Nature Parks and Endangered Species
The island of Java counts 9 Nature Parks and a large number of protected forests that are the habitat of Java’s many endemic flora and fauna. Nature Parks include the Ujung Kulon Park, habitat of the near –extinct one-horned rhino.
The Gede-Pangrango Park in West Java is where the first Java coffee and quinine were produced and where edelweiss grow in the tropics. The Bromo-Tengger Park in East Java is famed for its wide sandsea caldera from which Bromo’s cone emerges. The traditional community of Tenggerese still inhabit this area and provide offerings to appease the spirit of the volcano. Mt. Bromo offers spectacular sunrises. While further east, the Baluran Nature reserve is the home of the Banteng – Indonesia’s buffalos.
Powerful Kingdoms and Impressive Monuments
Java is known to have been inhabited some 1.5 million years ago by the hominid named Pithecanthropus Erectus, whose remains were found around Sangiran, Central Java.
Java has long been known in history since the first century AD as center in the sea trade between India and China. Indian and Greek records of the 3rd century BC and the late first century AD told of the island of Javadvipa or Barley island, rich in grain and gold.
The first records found in West Java mention the kingdom of Tarumanegara dating back to the 5th. century AD. Hindu temples in Central Java dating back to the 6th. century were built in the Dieng plateau near Wonosobo. The early Mataram kingdom under the Syailendra dynasty constructed the imposing Buddhist Borobudur temple in the 8th century, which was followed in the 9th century by construction of the elegant Hindu Prambanan nearby built by the Sanjaya dynasty.
For a yet unknown reason–some scientists presume that this was because of a violent eruption of Mt. Merapi–the center of power suddenly shifted to East Java, where emerged the kingdoms of Kediri, Singosari and later the powerful Majapahit Kingdom, which in the 14th century held sway over much of the Indonesian archipelago and beyond, until Majaphit fell in 1478 in a holy war against the Muslim Demak kingdom.
With the arrival of Islam in Indonesia, the power of Majapahit waned, and most of its aristocracy and Hindu followers fled to the neighbouring island of Bali. Until today, Bali’s inhabitants still adhere strongly to the Hindu religion. Meanwhile, most of Java’s northern coast converted to Islam.
The first Dutch vessel anchored here in late 1600s and in 1619 took over the town of Jayakarta and renamed it Batavia, to become the center of Dutch government in the East Indies. Dutch colonialism slowly overpowered Java’s kingdoms, and soon the island came under Dutch rule.
Yogyakarta and Surakarta (Solo) however, remained as sultanates. Although, at the declaration of Indonesia’s Independence in 1945 these pledged integration into the Republic of Indonesia, their special status allows their unique culture and traditions to continue until today.
Meanwhile, Islam spread over most of the Indonesian archipelago, and today some 80% of Java’s population embraces Islam, which, welded into centuries-old cultures and tradition have made Indonesians a more tolerant and moderate society.
In 1942 the Japanese ran over the islands, and Indonesia came under Japanese rule during World War II. At the defeat of Japan in 1945, Indonesia declared her independence, claiming the former Dutch East Indies as her rightful territory.
The Dutch government, however, did not release their colony easily. After many bloody battles, finally the Dutch government relented transferring full sovereignty over the entire East Indies to the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia only in 1950.
Java has 6 international airports, the Soekarno_Hatta International Airport and the Halim Perdanakusumah airport in Jakarta, Surabaya’s Juanda International airport, and the airports in Solo, Yogyakarta and Bandung receive direct flights from abroad. From these cities domestic flights connect to other cities on Java as well as Indonesian destinations on other islands.
Java has super highways connecting largest cities, as well as a reasonably good road network across the island. Railways also connect most of Java’s towns.
Telecommunications are quick and efficient, and cell phones are ubiquitous even in villages.
People & Culture
The original languages on Java are Sundanese in West Java and Javanese with many variations and dialects. In Jakarta, the Betawi dialect is used, and due to its democratic and open style it has become the preferred language of young people. So much so that most of the shows and soap operas on television today use Betawi dialect or vocabulary.
Bahasa Indonesia is the country’s national language and is the official language used in official meetings and correspondence, rules and regulations, and on television news cast. Most people on Java speak at least two languages, their mother tongue and Bahasa Indonesia.
Enduring Arts and Crafts
In the courts of Java, philosophy and the arts flourished. Influenced by Hindu and Chinese civilizations, Java absorbed and blended cultures these with “local genius” to produce the culture, philosophy and arts that are uniquely Java, and now very Indonesian. Java maintains that life must be kept in harmony between man and the Almighty, and between man and his social and natural environment. And, in order to maintain peace there must be tolerance and grace among members of society.
Inspired by the Hindu Ramayana and the Mahabharata epics, Java expressed these through dance dramas and shadow puppet all night performances, accompanied by the rippling music of the gamelan orchestra.
In daily life, the beautiful Batik cloth was not merely material to wear, but symbolized life cycle and social status. Sponsored by the courts, gold and silver jewelry and copper vases, spittoons, and other receptacles were produced, as are fine woodcarvings and pottery made in villages surrounding the palace. All these have continued to thrive until today.
Today, Batik designs vary from region to region, producing materials that are uniquely Indonesian.
The common people also developed their own arts and crafts. Reog Ponorogo of East Java, Debus in Banten are examples of dances using supernatural powers. Others like the Jaipongan dance of West Java are community dances. And later the area also produced the angklung, bamboo instrument that has adjusted to western music.
In cities today, Indonesia’s creative arts are revived, producing modern interpretations of ancient artistic expressions.
Jazz, pop music and cinematic arts are enjoyed by the younger generation, making Java very ancient and very modern both at the same time.
There are five provinces in Java, i.e. Jakarta, West Java, Central Java, Yogyakarta (or Jogjakarta, as the Sultan would say) and East Java. Each has its own specialties. Generally, the Javanese dishes are well known for their wondrous taste and many have been a favorite of tourists.