From a mere 60 million before the country’s independence in 1945, the population of Indonesia has grown to about 175 million by 1990 estimates and about 261 million by 2016 estimates, which makes the country the fourth most populous in the world next to China, India, and United States. One of Indonesia’s biggest current problems, however, stems not so much from size of its population as from the unequal distribution of its population, with about 62 percent of the people living on the Java Island, whose land area constitutes only 7 percent of the country’s total – a predicament which the country is attempting to surmount by conducting vigorous family planning and resettlement programs, especially in overpopulated areas.
Although Indonesian are strongly aware of their unity as a nation, the country’s ethnic diversity is really stupefying. For the sake of convenience, however, four main ethnic or racial groups can be distinguished: the Melanesian, the proto-Austronesian, the Polynesian and the Micronesian. These are again subdivided into hundreds of ethnic population groups and sub-groups, each of which has its own cultural and social heritage. Not less than 250 languages and dialects are spoken.
Members of the Melanesian race constitute by far the biggest majority of the population and include such major groups as the Minangkabau, the Bataks, the Malays and the peoples of Aceh, Palembang dan Lampung, all on the island of Sumatra; the Sundanese and Javanese of Java; the Balinese; the Dayak people of Kalimantan, and the Minahasa, the Bugis and Toraja of Sulawesi.
Representing of Polynesian and proto-Austronesian elements are the people of Maluku and Papua, while the Micronesian component is primarily represented by the peoples inhabiting the small islands in the far eastern regions of Indonesia.
Straddling one of the world’s most ancient and vital trade routes, Indonesia has since time immemorial been host to migrants from other parts of Asia, Arabia, and in more recent times also from Europe, who brought with them their own ways and customs to enrich the Indonesian cultural legacy. Of those migrants and settlers, by far the most numerous are the Chinese, who at present is estimated to number approximately four million, two-thirds of whom have adopted the Indonesian Nationality.
To forge all those individual elements into one unified nation, youth leaders in the early days of the nationalist movement proclaimed what is now known as the 1928 Youths Oath, which affirms the unity of Indonesia in term of nationhood, language, and country. That oath is now regarded to be a milestone that marks the beginning of the strong independence movement that emerged in the following decades, and that finally led to the nation’s proclamation of Independence on August 17. 1945.
Unity of Diversity
In acknowledgment of its great ethnic diversity, the Republic of Indonesia carries on its coat of arms the motto “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” or Unity of Diversity. This motto is written on the Burung Garuda (Garuda Bird) which is a symbol of the Republic of Indonesia.