Indonesia Java – History, Culture, and Development

Locally known as Djawa or Jawa, Java is the political, geographic and economic center of the Indonesia.  Java is where most of Indonesia’s history took place with Jakarta being part of the island. Most of the country’s history took place in Java as it was the core of the colonial Dutch East Indies. This is where the center of Hindu-Buddhist empires and the Islamic sultanates began. On the other hand, Chain of volcanoes lines up from east to west—making Java the fifth largest island of Indonesia.

Besides being a home to 56.7 percent of the Indonesian population, Java is also birds’ paradise with more than 450 different bird species around. The island is pretty much crowded with people coming from many region in hope to find a better life. There are officially four provinces and two special regions in Java. Namely,West Java, Central Java, East Java, and Banten as provinces. Then, Jakarta and Yogyakarta as the two special regions.

See also: History of Jakarta –  Indonesian Democracy


Java lies between Sumatra to the west and Bali to the east. The area of Java is 53,588 square miles (138,794 square km) and surrounded by the Java Sea to the north, Sunda Strait to the west. Then, the Indian Ocean to the south and Bali Strait and Madura Strait in the east. The length of island is 661 miles (1,064 km) long from east to west around 60 miles (100 km) to 100 miles (160 km) at the ends of the island.

Java contains more or less 112 volcanoes, thirty-eight of which are active. The highest volcano in Java is Mount Semeru at 12,060 feet (3,676 meters). Meanwhile, the most active volcano is Mount Merapi (2,914 m). There are series of discontinuous plateaus lies south of the volcanic belt and reaches an elevation of about 1,000 feet (300 meters). The island’s longest rivers are the 372 miles (600 km) long Solo River and the Brantas River. The Solo River flows north from Tawu volcano then eastwards to Java Sea, near the city of Surabaya.

The average temperature throughout the year is between 22 ° C to 29 ° C, with an average humidity of 75%. The rainy season begins in October and ends in April, meanwhile the highest rainfall generally occurs in the months of January and February. Rainfall in West Java reached approximately above 4,000 mm per year, while in the northern coast of East Java is just reached 900 mm per year.

See also: Hinduism in Bali – Indonesia Flag


Before Java has been developed and growth like now, There are several histories that an evidence Java already became island which has a high potential become developed island.

[toggle title=”1.Pre-History” state=”opened”]

In 1891, the first early hominid specimens were found in Java island.  The cranial fossil remains, that commonly known as “Java man” is the first early hominid specimen found outside of Europe. Then there are several ones found at various locations along the river valleys, now generally classified in the species Homo erectus. “Java Man” is predicted to have occupied Java from about 1,000,000 to 500,000 years B.C.E.

See also: Indonesian Coral Reef – Indonesia Orangutan

[toggle title=”2.Hindu & Buddhist Empires“]

On the 4th and 7th century, the kingdom of Taruma and Sunda arise in West Java, meanwhile, at the beginning of the 8th century, the kingdom of Medang arise in Central Java. The kingdom of Medang worship the god Siwa and build some of the earliest Hindu temples in Java, around the Dieng Plateau. Then, on the 8th century, the kingdom of Sailendra arise and build various temples in the 9th century, such as Borobudur and Prambanan in Central Java as the form of offerings to their beliefs, Mahayana Buddhism.

In the 10th century, many kingdoms arise in the East part of Java island, such as the kingdoms of Kadiri, the kingdoms of Singhasari, and the kingdoms of Majapahit. It’s the start of trade development between the islands of Indonesia with China and India.

The Majapahit kingdom reached its golden days under the leadership of Hayam Wuruk around 1350-1389. With Gajah Mada as Mahapatih, Majapahit kingdom succeeds in conquering many regions in Java island.

See also: Best Airports in Indonesia – Bali Facts

[toggle title=”3.Muslim Empires“]

At the end of the 16th century, Islam has surpassed Hinduism and Buddhism as the dominant religion in Java. Many Muslims kingdom arise at that time, such as the kingdoms of Demak, the kingdoms of Cirebon and the kingdoms of Banten. However, the most dominant is Mataram kingdom. At the beginning of the 17th century, the only kingdom left in Java island, after the kingdom of Surabaya and Cirebon fall to the hand of Mataram, is Mataram kingdom and Banten kingdom.

See also: Sumatran Tigers – Indonesian Education System

[toggle title=”4.The Dutch Colonization“]

The holding of the agreement between the Kingdom of Sunda and the Portuguese in Malaka in 1522 is the beginning of Java’s relationship with the colonial powers of Europe. With the agreement, Portuguese only allowed in Malaka. In 1596, an expedition led by Cornelis de Houtman, is the beginning of a relationship between Indonesia and the Netherlands. At the end of the 18th century, the Dutch have managed to expand their influence in the sultanates in the island of Java and so the colonization begins. The Java is main role in the beginning of colonization is as a rice-producing areas.

In 1811, the British succeed conquering Java and Java become part of Kingdom of Great Britain, with Sir Stamford Raffles as the Governor-General. Under the Treaty of Paris, Java be returned to the Netherlands in 1814.

From the 18th century to the 19th century, Java experiencing rapid population growth. The rapid population growth believed to happen because of Tanam Paksa System that is detrimental to society. Many couples trying to have more children in the hope of increasing the number of family members that can help pay taxes and earn a living. In 1820, an outbreak of cholera in Java claimed 100,000 victims.

See also: Indonesian Heroes


See also: Indonesia Religion – Indonesian Language


Java known as the island of arts. There are several traditional arts spread around in all territory of Java. Both of dances, houses, even Fabrics. Here several arts from Java, such as:

Traditional Dances

There are some Indonesian cultures in traditional dances of Java. Such as:

1. East Java

  • Dongkrek dance. A dance that tells the story of Raden Ngabei Lo Prawirodipuro’s efforts in overcoming pageblug mayangkoro, a plague which at that time affected Mejayan people. Came from Madiun.
  • Gandrung Banyuwangi dance. A dance that tells the story of people Blambangan spellbound by Dewi Sri, the rice goddess. This dance came from Banyuwangi.
  • Glepang dance. A dance made by Seno Turo, a young immigrants from Madura who stayed in the village Pendil, Probolinggo, as a form of resistance to the Dutch colonists. Its came from Probollingo.
  • Jaran Kepang dance. Most known as possessed dance. It tells the story of a beautiful young troops with the title Jathil whose ride a white horse with gold hair, gold tail, and has gold wings.  Those help in battle against the forces of empire Bantarangin boar riders of royal Lodaya. Then it became the legend serial reyog in 8th century.
  • Kethek Oglek dance. A dance that tells the love story of Panji Asmorobangun with Dewi Sekartaji.  This story came from Kediri.
  • Remo dance. A dance that tells the struggle of a prince in the battlefield. However, as the time goes by, its more often danced by women, this is how Remo dance women version born. Came from Jombang.
  • Remong dance. A welcome dance, trademark of East Java that describes the dynamic character of East Java.
  • Sandur dance. A dance that describe of agricultural activities such as searching for farmland, plowing, planting, and harvesting crops. Its came from Bojonegoro.
  • Reog (Ponorogo) dance. There are five versions of the dance’s story. However, the most well-known is the one about the rebellion of Ki Ageng Kutu. Then, it came from Ponorogo.

See also: Bird of Paradise – Largest Mosque in Indonesia

2. Central Java

  • Bondan dance. The dance symbolizes a mother that keeps her children in her care carefully by the act of carrying an open umbrella and dolls. Then, its dancing with caution over the pitcher who should not be trampled and broken. Came from Surakarta.
  • Gambir Anom dance. A dance that tells the story of Arjuna’s son, Irawan, falling in love with his beloved. The dance is the acts of one who prepare themselves for a date.
  • Gambyong dance. In the beginning, it’s just a street dance or folk dance and the development from Tayub dance. It’s a form of invitation to Dewi Sri (the goddess of rice) to bless their fields.  The dance came from Surakarta.
  • Tari Gatotkaca Gandrung. A dance that tells the story of how Gatotkaca, the infamous knight in Mahabrata story, falling in love.
  • Srimpi dance. A dance that epitomized the elegance character of the royal Javanese court. The dance became a symbol of the ruler’s power as well as the refinement of Javanese culture. Its came from Surakarta.

See also:

3. West Java

  • Jaipong dance. Locally known as ‘Jaipongan’, Jaipong dance is a dance came from Karawang. Its describe the association of Sundanese people.
  • Kelana Kencana Wungu dance. Locally known as ‘Tari Topeng Cirebon’. Kelana Kencana Wungu dance is a dance that tells the story of Prabu Minakjingga (Klana)’s infatuation towards queen Kencana Wungu’s beauty. The rejection of Kencana Wungu towards Prabu Minakjingga’s flattery, anger Prabu Minakjingga to the point he shows his abrasive-self.
  • Ketuk Tilu dance. A dance that performs to welcomes rice harvest as gratitude to Dewi Sri.
  • Kuda Lumping dance. A dance that portrays troops riding horses while being possessed by spirits.
  • Merak dance. A dance that expresses the life of an animal, specifically, a peacock. Its  made by Raden Tjetje Somantri, a Sundanese artist.
  • Sisingaan dance. The dance also known as Odong-odong and Sisingan Reog, Sisingan dance the Sundanese version of Reog. It tells the story of the royal guards’ loyalty towards the ruthless and arrogant king Singa Barong from Lodaya kingdom on their way to Daha kingdom. Then, the dance came from Subang.
  • Topeng Kuncaran dance. A dance that tells the story of prince Panji and Ramayana.

See also: Indonesian Tea – Dayak Tribe

4. Yogyakarta

  • Angguk dance. A dance that tells the story of Umarmoyo-Umarmadi and Wong Agung Jayengrono according to Serat Ambiyo.
  • Badui dance. A religious dance that describes soldiers who are going to war or soldiers that trains for war. Came from Sleman.
  • Golek Menak dance. A dance created by Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX insipired after witnessing Wayang Golek Menat shows are staged by a puppeteer from Kedu region in 1941.

See also: Endangered Animals in Indonesia – National Library of Indonesia

Traditional Houses

a.Kebaya House

indonesia, traditional house, housesThe characteristic of Kebaya house is that it has a big yard that work as parlour for guests, well and the family cemetery on the side of the house, and the walls of the house are made of panels that can be opened and shifted to the edges. On the other hand, Kebaya house can be found in Jakarta.

The house is divided into two parts. First part is the one that can be seen by public, while the other part is limited only to family and close relatives.

See also:  Indonesian People – The Biggest Stadium in Indonesia

Spaces in Kebaya house have their own function and name, here is the list of spaces in Kebaya house:

  • Amben. The front porch where chairs for guests as well as bench (chairs made of teak wood) to relax.
  • Gejongan. The floor front terrace which is considered sacred by Betawi people because it relates directly to the stairs named balaksuji, connecting the house to the outside area.
  • Paseban. The living room which is lined with the entrance door in the middle and also works as prayer room.
  • Pangkeng. The family room that separated by the walls of the bedroom.
  • Srondoyan. The kitchen located at the rear of the house.

See also: Bali Tribes – Luwak Coffee

b.Baduy House

indonesia, traditional house, housesBaduy roofs of traditional house are made of leaves called sulah nyanda. One sulah nyanda is made longer and have a lower slope at the bottom of the roof frame.  Baduy House commonly found in Banten province.

There are three rooms in Baduy house, that is, the bedroom for the head of the family, kitchen called imah, the bedroom for the children, the dining room called tepas and the living room called sosoro. 

The house’s lock are made with two pieces of wood that lay crosswise pulled or pushed from the outside of the house.

See also: Indonesian Human Rights – Volcanoes in Indonesia

c.Kasepuhan Cirebon House

indonesia, traditional house, housesKasepuhan Cirebon House were constructed around 1529 by Prince Cakrabuana, the son of Prabu Siliwangi from the Kingdom of Padjadjaran.

See also:

Then, this traditional house can be found in West Java, especially Cirebon. Here are the important parts in Kasepuhan Cirebon:

  • Main gate of Kasepuhan Cirebon, located in the north, while the second gate located in the south. The one in the north is in a form of bridge, called Kreteg Pangrawit  meanwhile the one in the south is called Lawang Sanga.
  • Pancaratna building, serves as a seba place or a place overlooking the village or commune officials that had been received by Demat or district officer.
  • Pangrawit building, serves as a place for soldiers to train, rest areas, and also as a court. There are three yard surrounding it.
  • Kasepuhan palace and the community, serves as a community center, especially in the social and cultural rites.

See also: Indonesian Martial Arts – Indonesian Theater

d.Joglo House

indonesia, traditional house, housesThe Joglo roof is different with the other type of Javanese roof because it consists of columns that become higher as it go to the center.The four innermost main house columns are often the tallest, while the outer columns are the lowest. On the other hand, Joglo house mainly built in Central Java.

These four innermost house columns—surmounted by a unique structural element known as tumpang sari—support a roof that is the steepest of all type of Javanese roof; almost look like a pyramid, except that it comes to two points rather than a single one.

See also: Unique Facts about Indonesia

Part of Joglo are:

  • Pendapa.
  • Pringgitan.
  • Dalem.
  • Sentong.
  • Gandok tengen.
  • Gandok kiwo.

There are also many types of Joglo house such as:

  • Joglo Limasan Lawakan.
  • Joglo Sinom.
  • Joglo Jompongan.
  • Joglo Pangrawit.
  • Joglo Mangkurat.
  • Joglo Hageng.
  • Joglo Semar Tinandhu.
  • Joglo Jepara.
  • Joglo Kudus.
  • Joglo Pati.
  • Joglo Rembang.

See also: Indonesian Heritage – Deforestation in Indonesia

e.Bangsal Kencono House

indonesia, traditional house, housesBangsal Kencono house is a custom house shaped hermitage from Yogyakarta. According to the history, Bangsal Kencono house were build by Sultan Hamengku Buwono I in 1756M.

This house serve as a place for religious events or empire events.Its also used in “Jumenengan” which a show when an emperor ascended the throne.

Bangsal Kencono house has many ornaments and details from the influence of Hinduism, for example, the number of poles as many as seven symbolizes perfection.

See also: Largest Cities in Indonesia – Poverty in Indonesia

Traditional Fabrics


Lurik is the clothing typically wear by male in the countryside among the peoples of Java. Lurik itself comes from Javanese language, “Lorek” which means an epitome of simplicity.

On the other hand, Lurik is believed that has been around since the days of the Mataram kingdom, evidenced by the discovery of inscription that tells about it.

Moreover, not only male, Lurik also used to make woman’s dress in the form of kebaya.

Lurik has many variations, such as orak klenting kuning, sodo sakler, lasem, tuluh watu, lompong keli, kinanti, kembang telo, kembang mindi, melati secontong, ketan ireng, ketan salak, dom ndlesep, loro-pat, kembang bayam, jaran dawuk, kijing miring, kunang sekebon, and more.

There are also well-known fabrics from Java called Batik. Batik mostly made in every territory of Java. Moreover, there are many kinds of Batik.Therefore, it makes Batik become one of Most Beautiful Fabric in Indonesia and already entered international stage especially in fashion terms.

Traditional Instrument

  • Tehyan is a stringed instrument that plays in gambang kromong, lenong and ondel-ondel. Its came from Betawi (Jakarta).
  • Angklung is a double-pitched musical instruments made of a varying number of bamboo tubes attached to a bamboo frame. Angklung usually played by Sundanese people.
  • Calung is a  prototyope of angklung that consists of multiple bamboo tubes which are struck at the base to produce a woody sound. It can either refer to a bamboo xylophone instrument or an ensemble. Same as Angklung, its also came from Sundanese people.
  • Kacapi is a zither-like Sundanese musical instrument. It is usually played as the main accompanying instrument in the Tembang Sunda or Mamaos Cianjuran.
  • Karinding is a wind instrument of Sundanese which played by putting the karinding between one’s two lips, then one in the end is beaten with a finger so that the vibrations occur in the middle.
  • Kendang is a two-headed drum and one of the primary instruments used in the gamelan orchestra ensembles of Java.
  • Saron is a musical instrument with seven bronze bars placed on top of a resonating frame (rancak) and is part of the gamelan orchestra.
  • Kenong is technically a kind of gong from Sundanese, but is placed on its side and is roughly as tall as it is wide. Also part of the gamelan orchestra.
  • Slenthem is a Javanese metallophone, a part of a gamelan orchestra.
  • Kempul is a set of pitched, hanging, knobbed gongs, often made of bronze, wood, and cords. Also part of the gamelan orchestra.
  • Suling is a simple bamboo flute with a notch cut into the the side of the top end, and this top end is surrounded by a rattan of bamboo ring, leaving a small slit where the player will put his mouth on.

Java in New Era


With a density of 1,317 people / km, Java became the island where more than 60% of the population Indonesia live.

Here is the list of population in Java in 2005:

City, Province


Jakarta, DKI Jakarta


Surabaya, Jawa Timur


Bandung, Jawa Barat


Bekasi, Jawa Barat


Tangerang, Banten


Depok, Jawa Barat


Semarang, Jawa Tengah


Bogor, Jawa Barat


Malang, Jawa Timur




Economic Conditions

At the beginning, Java economy is highly dependent on the rice fields only until sugarcane, coffee, rubber, tea, and quinine were introduced by the Netherlands. Java Post Road construction by Daendels in the early 19th century become the initial ease of transportation. The toll roads built and expanded since the Soeharto era until now, has connecting urban centers with the surrounding area.

On this very day, industry, business and trade, as well as services has evolve in Jakarta, Surabaya, Semarang and Bandung, while Yogyakarta, Surakarta, and Cirebon in charge of keeping the cultural heritage of the Palace and become the center arts, culture and tourism. Towns along the northern coast of Java, especially around Cilegon, Tangerang, Bekasi, Karawang, Gresik and Sidoarjo become industrial area.

See also : Bali Facts – Indonesian Politics

Java island is one of developed island among other in archipelago. Most of industries make Java as one of their focus to spread its products. Moreover, the location of Java also support in the term of economy to growth. That’s why many people want to transmigrate from their place to Java island.

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