ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Accurate information about pre-Islamic Indonesia is very difficult to obtain. This is because of the lack of indigenous records, the comparatively low level of archaeological excavation in the more than 13,500 islands that make up the archipelago and the general disinterest in a period of history that is not Islamic. Nevertheless, the influence of the past is still strong in modern Indonesia. Javanese, for example, regularly refer to a mixture of magical charms and spells, sacrifices and appeals to gods that relate to the pre-Islamic past. One of the distinctive features of indigenous Southeast Asian cultures is a cosmography that includes conflicts between the people of the mountains and peoples of the sea or the lowlands and conflicts between creatures of the air and creatures of water and echoes of these are present in modern Javanese custom.
From hints and clues, therefore, together with the reports of outsiders (Europeans as well as Chinese) and the slowly increasing number of archaeological excavations, it is possible to piece together an idea of early Indonesia.
The Earliest Islanders
Brian Fagan has linked migration with climate change and this is as persuasive an argument to explain why people moved to Indonesia when they did as any other. His argument is that, to maximise food security (which has always been critical to the survival of the species), people prefer to live in ecotone regions – that is, in the comparatively narrow regions in which different environmental types meet, since these provide distinctive food sources – hunted meat from one and gathered fruits from the other, for example. When climatic conditions change, as they have done many times in the course of history, the location of the ecotones moves and people move with them. The same argument explains the movements of the Germans into the Roman sphere of influence (Fagan, 2004).
“(1) sea-faring fishing and gathering communities, some living on boats, habitation subject to tidal changes;
Elements of Indian culture are found throughout Southeast Asia. The extent and nature of this process has been a contested issue over the years since Southeast Asians argue the importance and distinctiveness of indigenous culture inventions and customs while outsiders, include colonisers and imperialists, wish to maintain that Indianisation was a much more extensive and pervasive process because this makes rule by outsiders more of a normal and accepted state of affairs.
However it happened, it is clear that there are distinctive pre-Indianisation cultural elements that are still important in Indonesia. These include the wayang or puppet-shadow theatre, the gamelan orchestra and batik textile work. Chinese referred to Indonesians as K’un-lun and Indians used the term Dvipantara – the ‘people of the islands.’ Yet these terms hide the great ethnic diversity of the islands, which included those peoples who had retained some measure of ethnic purity (the Alfurs of Celebes and the Moluccas, the Dyaks of Borneo and the Bataks of Sumatra) and those coastal Malays who had blended into different ethnicities such as Sundanese, Javanese, Balinese and others.
Indianisation involved the adoption of Hinduism, Brahmanical traditions, the role of the god-king and various other political ideas. However, traditions such as the caste system were never imported anywhere in the region. Selective adoption of customs implies, therefore, a measure of choice over the process rather than one of colonisation or domination.
“… slab-lined burial chambers [which] contained a few glass beads and fragments of bronze and iron, and the most interesting of the carved boulders show men wearing a variety of ornaments and items of clothing, such as bracelets, anklets, necklaces, earplugs, helmets with peaks at the rear, loincloths, and tunics” (Bellwood, 1999, p.132).
“The planks on lashed-lug craft are edge-joined by wooden dowels; they are carved, rather than bent, to shape; and they incorporate protruding cleats or lugs. Holes are carved out of the lugs so that they may be lashed to more-or-less flexible ribs and/or thwart beams, thereby holding the planks together, holes being drilled near the edges of the planks for stitches of vegetable fibre. They are usually drilled in pairs and occur within the seam, not being visible from outside the hull” (Flecker, 2001).
References and Further Reading