Although hundreds of ethnic groups have been known as the indigenous of Indonesia for hundreds and thousands of years, Indonesia did not exist in its present form until the turn of the 20th century.
Of the so-called natives of Indonesia, archaeologists have speculated that the first people to populate Indonesia migrated from mainland China some 1,000 years ago and inhabited a stretch of islands along the equator, later known as Nusantara.
Over the centuries they built and refined their statecraft in the form of kingdoms and principalities. Sharing similar characteristics with other Southeast Asian kingdoms, these Nusantara kingdoms based their conception of state more on people than on space or territory. But intercourse with the western world changed the course of history in Nusantara.
In 1511, the Portuguese conquered Malacca, located on the Malay peninsula, which was then still an inseparable part of Nusantara. The Dutch followed in 1512 and landed on Banten shore in Java. At first, the Dutch came more as traders under the trading umbrella of the Royal East Indies Company (Vereniging Oost Indische Compagnie, VOC). For the next two centuries, the Dutch conducted business with the natives, although in many cases the trade was not on equal terms. Often, trade was accompanied by violent pacification processes.
Then the VOC went bankrupt and the Dutch government took over the business in Nusantara (called the East Indies by the Dutch). Starting from about the mid-seventh century and lasting until the arrival of the Japanese in 1942, was the "real colonization" called "high colonialism" in literature. The period was disrupted briefly when the British took over colonial rule in 1811 to 1814. Among other things that the natives learned from colonization was statecraft based on territorial conception rather than on people.
In the early 20th century, the natives of Nusantara learned that as diverse as their ethnicities were, they could imagine themselves as a unified community. A nationalism had grown in a process that Benedict Anderson, a doyen of Indonesian studies, calls an "imagined community". During the first half of 20th century Nusantara, its people built an imaginary nation called Indonesia -- the name itself was borrowed from the West. By the end of the 1930s, it was clear that the end of Dutch colonialism in Indonesia was only a matter of time.
During World War II, 1942-1945, the Japanese occupied Indonesia. Although short-lived, the occupation enabled Indonesians to arm themselves for the very first time. Shortly after Japan's defeat in WWII, Sukarno and Hatta proclaimed Indonesia an independent state, and they became the founding fathers of the new country. The largest archipelago in the world, with over 17,000 islands -- only 3,000 of which are inhabited -- has emerged into a new Indonesia.
When the Dutch returned and tried to reestablish colonial rule, armed Indonesians resisted. The Dutch were forced to recognize an independent Indonesia in 1949.