Java (island)

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Map of Java
Map of Java

Java (Indonesian, Javanese, and Sundanese: Jawa) is an island of Indonesia, and the site of its capital city, Jakarta. It is the most populous island in the world; indeed, it has a larger population than either the continents of Australia or Antarctica (see the list of islands by population). With an area of 132,000 square km, 127 million inhabitants and 864 people per km², if it were a country, it would be the second, most densely-populated country of the world after Bangladesh, except for some very small city-states.




View of the Puncak area in West Java, overlooking tea plantations
View of the Puncak area in West Java, overlooking tea plantations

Java (7° S 109° E) is in a chain of islands with Kalimantan (Borneo) to the north, Sumatra to the northwest, Bali to the east, Borneo to the northeast and Christmas Island to the south. It is the world's 13th largest island.

Java is almost entirely of volcanic origin; and contains no fewer than thirty-eight mountains of that conical form, which indicates their having at one time or another been active volcanoes. See Volcanoes of Java.


Java contains the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta. Popular tourist destinations include the city of Yogyakarta, a massive pyramid-like monument to Buddha known as Borobudur; and Prambanan, the largest Hindu temple in Java.

Java is also the most densely-populated island in Indonesia, with nearly 60% of the overall population of the country residing there [1]. Since the 1970's, the Indonesian government has run transmigration programs aimed at resettling the population of Java on other less-populated islands of Indonesia. This program has met with mixed results; and has been behind many instances of ethnic tension, and even violence between the native people and the settlers.

The island is divided into 4 provinces, 1 special region* (daerah istimewa), and 1 special capital city district** (daerah khusus ibukota):


The island of Java is also famous for the "Java man", a set of fossil remains of "Homo erectus" found near the Brantas river in East Java. Two million years ago, the rainfall in the Sunda and Digul plateaus was very heavy, which allowed heavy tropical vegetation to thrive. This, in turn allowed many prehistoric cultures to emerge, as evidenced in many fossil findings in this region.

Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms

Much evidence of Java's past kingdoms remains; such as the famous Buddhist Borobudur and Hindu Prambanan temples. Indeed, the Javanese culture, and language itself, was heavily influenced by the cultures and languages of the Indian subcontinent. In the sixth and seventh centuries, many maritime kingdoms arose in Sumatra and Java, which controlled the waters in the Straits of Malacca, and flourished with the increasing sea-trade between China and India and beyond. During this time, scholars from India and China visited these kingdoms to translate literary and religious texts.

The most prominent of the Hindu kingdoms was the Majapahit kingdom based in East Java, from where it ruled a large part of what is now western Indonesia. The name of the Majapahit empire is still invoked by contemporary Indonesian leaders to promote "unity", and the legitimacy of the state. The remnants of the Majapahit kingdom shifted to Bali during the sixteenth century, as Muslim kingdoms in the western part of the island gained influence.

Muslim kingdoms and the Dutch colonization

The earliest Muslim "evangelists" were called the Wali Songo, the "nine ambassadors". Several of them were of Chinese origin, leading to speculation about Zheng He's influence on the trade in the Straits of Malacca. Many of their tombs are still well-preserved, and often visited "Ziarah" for superstitious and religious reasons. Most of the brand of Islam that is adopted in Java is mixed with long-standing indigenous beliefs, and has a decidedly "local flavor". For example, the legend of Nyi Roro Kidul was invented as a mix of the superstition common on the southern coast of Java, and Islamic influences.

The Dutch East India Company, (VOC) established its trading and administrative headquarters in Batavia (now the capital city of Jakarta). This capital, along with other coastal cities such as Semarang and Surabaya, was the focus of Dutch attention during most of the colonial period. The VOC maintained control over the mountainous interior of the island through indigenous client states, such as Mataram in central Java.

The nineteenth century saw the Dutch government take over administration of the East Indies from the Dutch East India Company, and in the mid-nineteenth century, they implemented the cultuurstelsel and cultuurprocenten policies, which caused widespread famine and poverty. A Dutch author Douwes Dekker wrote a novel Max Havelaar to protest these conditions, and in turn the political and social movement spurned by this protest resulted in the Ethical Policy, by which many Javanese elites were given a chance to earn Dutch education, both in Java and in the Netherlands itself. It was from this elite that the most prominent nationalist leaders came. They formed the core of the new government, when Indonesia became independent after World War II.

Post independence

With the establishment of Jakarta as the capital, and the Javanese roots of the majority of Indonesian political figures, the island remains politically and economically dominant over the rest of the country. While much of rural Java is very poor, the urban areas of Java are among the wealthiest, most highly- developed regions in the country. Both presidents Sukarno and Suharto, who together ruled for the first forty-nine years of independence, were from Java.

This political dominance has resulted in resentment on the part of some residents of other islands. The respected Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer once recommended that the Indonesian capital be moved outside the island of Java, in order to free the Indonesian nationalist movement from its Java-centric character.


Generally speaking, the three major cultures of Java are the Sundanese culture of West Java, the Central Java culture, and the East Java culture. In the western part of Central Java, usually named the Banyumasan region, a cultural mingling occurred; bringing together Javanese culture and Sundanese culture to create the Banyumasan culture.

In the central Javan court cities of Yogyakarta and Surakarta, contemporary kings trace their lineages back to the pre-colonial Islamic kingdoms that ruled the region, making those places especially strong repositories of classical Javanese culture. Classic arts of Java include gamelan music and wayang puppet shows.

Java was the site of many influential kingdoms in the Southeast Asian region, and as a result, many literary works have been written by Javanese authors. These include Ken Arok and Ken Dedes, the story of the orphan who usurped his king, and married the queen of the ancient Javanese kingdom; and translations of Ramayana and Mahabarata. Pramoedya Ananta Toer is a famous contemporary Indonesian author, who has written many stories based on his own experiences of having grown up in Java, and takes many elements from Javanese folklore and historical legends.

See also: Culture of Indonesia


Languages spoken in Java (Javanese is shown in white)
Languages spoken in Java (Javanese is shown in white)

The three major languages spoken on the island are Javanese, Sundanese and Madurese. Other languages spoken by smaller groups include Betawi, Banyumasan, Badui, Osing and Tenggerese. The vast majority of the population also speaks Indonesian, generally as a second language.


Most Javanese (93 %) are Muslims, either of the Abangan (40 %) (nominal) type or orthodox (60 %) . Small Hindu (1-2 %) enclaves are scattered through-out Java, but a large Hindu population prevails along the eastern coast nearest Bali, especially around the town of Banyuwangi. There are also Christian (2-3 %) (communities; mostly in the major cities, although they are in the minority. Certain rural areas of south-central Java are strongly Catholic. Buddhist communities (1 %) also exist in the major cities, primarily among the Indonesian Chinese.

Then there are also groups of followers of Kejawen, or Javanese "mystical" groups (see "mysticism") who do not fit easily into governmental administrative categories - such as Sumarah, Subud and other groups. During the Suharto era, it was mandatory to belong to a government-approved religion in order to have an identity card, which itself was also mandatory. Followers of Kejawen had various difficulties because of this issue.

Ethnic groups

See also

Further reading

External links

Provinces of Indonesia
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Sumatra (Sumatera)
DI Aceh | North Sumatra (Sumatera Utara) | West Sumatra (Sumatera Barat) | Bengkulu | Riau | Riau Islands (Kepulauan Riau) | Jambi | South Sumatra (Sumatera Selatan) | Lampung | Bangka-Belitung
Java (Jawa)
DKI Jaya | West Java (Jawa Barat) | Banten | Central Java (Jawa Tengah) | DI Yogyakarta | East Java (Jawa Timur)
West Kalimantan (Kalimantan Barat) | Central Kalimantan (Kalimantan Tengah) | South Kalimantan (Kalimantan Selatan) | East Kalimantan (Kalimantan Timur)
The Lesser Sunda Islands (Nusa Tenggara)
Bali | West Nusa Tenggara (Nusa Tenggara Barat) | East Nusa Tenggara (Nusa Tenggara Timur)
West Sulawesi (Sulawesi Barat) | North Sulawesi (Sulawesi Utara) | Central Sulawesi (Sulawesi Tengah) | South Sulawesi (Sulawesi Selatan) | South East Sulawesi (Sulawesi Tenggara) | Gorontalo
The Maluku Islands and New Guinea (Irian)
Maluku | North Maluku (Maluku Utara) | West Irian Jaya (Irian Jaya Barat) | Papua
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