Names of Indonesia

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This article is about the name of the country or the archipelago. For peoples' names, see Indonesian name.
The region that today identified as Indonesia was also referred in different names, such as "East Indies" in this 1855 map.

Indonesia is the common and official name to refer the Republic of Indonesia or Indonesian archipelago; however, other names, such as Nusantara and East Indies are also known. Some of these names are considered obsolete and confined only on certain period of history, while some might be more geographically specific or general.


On identifying geographical names of their lands, the Indonesian natives seldom transcend their traditional boundaries, which is relatively small confined in their tribal environs. There are around 300 distinct native ethnic groups in Indonesia, and 742 different languages and dialects,[1][2] which add to the complexity and unconformity on the naming of the region. The notions to identify the whole archipelagic region that today forming Indonesia was unknown then. Geographical names usually applied to individual islands, such as Java, one of the earliest identified island in the Indonesian archipelago. It was foreign traders and explorers from India, China, Middle East, and Europe that finally identify the names of this archipelagic region.


The island of Java was the earliest island within Indonesia that being identified by the geographer of the known world. "Yavadvipa" is mentioned in India's earliest epic, the Ramayana dating to approximately the 5th to 4th century BC. It was mentioned that Sugriva, the chief of Rama's army dispatched his men to Yawadvipa, the island of Java, in search of Sita.[3]


Further information: Suvarnabhumi

Suvarnadvipa which means the "Golden Island" may have been used primarily as a vague general designation of an extensive region in Southeast Asia, but, over time, different parts of it came to be designated by the additional epithets of island, peninsula or city.[4] In contrast the ancient name for the Indian subcontinent is Jambudvipa. In ancient Indonesia, the name Suvarnadvipa is used to designate Sumatra island; as counterpart of neighbouring Javadvipa or Bhumijava (Java island). Both, Java and Sumatra are the principal islands in Indonesian history.


The great island of Iabadiu or Jabadiu was mentioned in Ptolemy's Geographia composed around 150 CE Roman Empire. Iabadiu is said to means "barley island", to be rich in gold, and have a silver town called Argyra at the west end. The name indicate Java,[5] and seems to be derived from Hindu name Java-dvipa (Yawadvipa). Despite the name indicate Java, many suggest that it refer to Sumatra instead.[5]


The 8th century Arabs geographers identify the whole Maritime Southeast Asian region as "Jawi" (Arabic:جاوي). The word "Jawi" (جاوي) is an adjective for the Arabic noun Jawah (جاوة). Both terms may originated from Indian source, the term "Javadvipa", the ancient name for Java. "Jawah" and "Jawi" may have been used by the Arabs as the catch-all terms in referring to the entire Maritime Southeast Asia and its peoples.[6] Today, the term Jawi is also used to describe Jawi alphabet, the Arabic script that have been used and modified to write in Southeast Asian languages, especially Malay language. In native Javanese language, the term also means Java (geographically: tanah Jawi ꦠꦤꦃꦗꦮꦶ, or ethnically: tiyang Jawi ꦠꦶꦪꦁꦗꦮꦶ)


Main article: Nanyang (region)

Nanyang (南洋) (literally meaning "Southern Ocean"), is a Chinese term denoting the greater Maritime Southeast Asia region not only Indonesia, but also including Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Brunei, but usually excluding other mainland Southeast Asian nations, especially the other nations on the Indochinese peninsula. It came into common usage in self-reference to the large ethnic Chinese migrant population in Southeast Asia. Nanyang is contrasted with Dongyang (Eastern Ocean), which refers to Japan.

East Indies[edit]

Main article: East Indies

The name "the Indies" are derived from the Indus River flowing through modern-day Pakistan, India and western Tibet and were applied by the ancient Greeks to most of the regions of Asia that lay further to the east than Persia. This usage dates at least from the time of Herodotus, in the 5th century BC (see Names of India). The term "Indies" was first used by European geographer to identify geographic region not only Indian Subcontinent, but also includes the islands beyond.

After the discovery of America, it was later changed to East Indies to distinguished it with West Indies. During the age of exploration in the 16th century, "East Indies" is a term used by Europeans to identify what is now known as Indian subcontinent or South Asia, Southeastern Asia, and the islands of Oceania and Maritime Southeast Asia.[7] The East Indies portion that today become Indonesia was fell under Dutch colonial control and named Dutch East Indies.


Main article: Insulindia

Insulindia or Insulinde, is a somewhat archaic geographical term[8][9][10] for Maritime Southeast Asia, encompassing the entire area situated between Australasia and Indochina.[11] More common in Portuguese and Spanish,[12][13][14] it is combined word from insula ("island") and india (India).


The name Indonesia derives from the Latin and Greek Indus, and the Greek nèsos, meaning "island".[15] The name dates to the 18th century, far predating the formation of independent Indonesia.[16] In 1850, George Windsor Earl, an English ethnologist, proposed the terms Indunesians — and, his preference, Malayunesians — for the inhabitants of the "Indian Archipelago or Malayan Archipelago".[17] In the same publication, a student of Earl's, James Richardson Logan, used Indonesia as a synonym for Indian Archipelago.[18][19] However, Dutch academics writing in East Indies publications were reluctant to use Indonesia. Instead, they used the terms Malay Archipelago (Maleische Archipel); the Netherlands East Indies (Nederlandsch Oost Indië), popularly Indië; the East (de Oost); and Insulinde.[20]

After 1900, the name Indonesia became more common in academic circles outside the Netherlands, and Indonesian nationalist groups adopted it for political expression.[20] Adolf Bastian, of the University of Berlin, popularised the name through his book Indonesien oder die Inseln des Malayischen Archipels, 1884–1894. The first Indonesian scholar to use the name was Suwardi Suryaningrat (Ki Hajar Dewantara), when he established a press bureau in the Netherlands with the name Indonesisch Pers-bureau in 1913.[16] Although the name was originally meant for scientific purposes, on 28 October 1928, the name "Indonesia" gained more political significance when the native pro-independence nationalist youth in Dutch East Indies declared the Youth Pledge; acknowledge Indonesia as one motherland, one nation, and uphold Indonesian as the language of unity.[21]


Main article: Nusantara

Nusantara is an Indonesian word for the Indonesian archipelago.[22] It is originated from Old Javanese and literally means "archipelago".[23] The name derived from Old Javanese word of sanskrit origin nusa ("island") and antara ("in between") or antero ("the whole of" or "the collection of"), both combined word means "the collection of islands" or simply means "archipelago".

The word Nusantara was taken from an oath by Gajah Mada in 1336, as written on an old Javanese manuscript Pararaton and Negarakertagama.[24] Gajah Mada was a powerful military leader and prime minister of the Majapahit Empire who was credited with bringing the empire to its peak of glory. Gajah Mada delivered an oath called Sumpah Palapa, in which he vowed not to eat any food containing spices until he had conquered all of Nusantara under Majapahit.

In 1920, Ernest Francois Eugene Douwes Dekker (1879–1950), proposed "Nusantara" as a new name for this country instead of "Indonesia". He argued that the name was more indigenously developed, which did not contain any words etymologically inherited from the name Indies, Indus or India.[25] This is the first instance of the term Nusantara appearing after it had been written in Pararaton manuscript.

The definition of Nusantara introduced by Douwes Dekker is different from the 14th century definition of the term. During the Majapahit era, Nusantara was described as vassal areas to be conquered, the overseas possessions of Majapahit, in contrast with Negara Agung or the core of Majapahit. However, Douwes Dekker did not want this aggressive connotation, so he defined Nusantara as all the Indonesian regions from Sabang as far as Merauke. Although Douwes Dekker's proposal did not succeed and the name "Indonesia" remain used for the nation's name, the name "Nusantara" has been widely used within literatures, printed and broadcast news materials and popular publications thus it has become the synonym for Indonesia.

Poetic literature names[edit]

Some of literature works and poems often describes Indonesia in eloquent poetic names. Such as Zamrud Khatulistiwa ("Emerald of the Equator"), which refer to Indonesian green and lush tropical rainforest as the emeralds, as well as the geographic position of Indonesia that stretch west-east along equator. It was coined by Multatuli, a 19th-century Dutch writer. He described Dutch East Indies as "Insulinde, das sich schlingt um den Äquator wie ein Gürtel von Smaragd" ("a girdle of emerald flung across the equator").[26]

Other epithets such as Bumi Pertiwi ("Land of Pertiwi or Mother Earth"), refer to Indonesia through its national personification, Ibu Pertiwi, and Tanah Air (Indonesian lit: "soil and water"), an Indonesian word for "homeland".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "An Overview of Indonesia". Living in Indonesia, A Site for Expatriates. Expat Web Site Association. Retrieved 5 October 2006. 
  2. ^ Merdekawaty, E. (6 July 2006). ""Bahasa Indonesia" and languages of Indonesia" (PDF). UNIBZ – Introduction to Linguistics. Free University of Bozen. Retrieved 17 July 2006. 
  3. ^ History of Ancient India Kapur, Kamlesh
  4. ^ Dr. R. C. Majumdar, Ancient India' Colonies in the Far East Vol 2', Asoke Kumar Majumdar, 1937, page 46.
  5. ^ a b J. Oliver Thomson (2013). History of Ancient Geography. Cambridge University Press. pp. 316–317. ISBN 9781107689923. Retrieved 25 August 2015. 
  6. ^ Shahrizal bin Mahpol (2002). "Penguasaan tulisan jawi di kalangan pelajar Melayu : suatu kajian khusus di UiTM cawangan Kelantan (Competency in Jawi among Malay students: A specific study in UiTM, Kelantan campus)". Digital Repository, Universiti Malaya. Retrieved 8 July 2012. 
  7. ^ "East Indies," Oxford English Dictionary, second edition, 1989.
  8. ^ T. Barbour. Reptiles in the East and West Indies- and Some Digression. The American Naturalist, Vol. 57, No. 649 (Mar. - Apr. 1923), pp. 125-128
  9. ^ Review: The Tongking Delta and the Annamite House. Geographical Review, Vol. 27, No. 3 (Jul. 1937), pp. 519-520
  10. ^ A. Aiyappan. Pottery Braziers of Mohenjo-Daro. Man, Vol. 39, (May 1939), pp. 71-72
  11. ^ Donald F. Lach, Edwin J. Van Kley (eds.) Asia in the making of Europe: Volume III, A century of advance. University of Chicago Press, 1993. ISBN 978-0-226-46757-3 pp. 1301-1396.
  12. ^ Portugal. Embaixada (Indonesia). Sukarno and Portugal. Embaixada de Portugal em Jacarta, 2002 pp.61-62
  13. ^ António Augusto Mendes Correa. Timor português: contribuïções para o seu estudo antropológico. Volume 1 of Memórias : Série antropológica e etnológica, Portugal Junta de Investigações do Ultramar. Imprensa Nacional de Lisboa, 1944
  14. ^ Jules Sion, Luis Villanueva López-Moreno (tr.). Asia monzónica: India, Indochina, Insulindia. Volume 13 of Geografía Universal. Montaner y Simón, 1948.
  15. ^ Tomascik, T; Mah, JA; Nontji, A; Moosa, MK (1996). The Ecology of the Indonesian Seas – Part One. Hong Kong: Periplus Editions. ISBN 962-593-078-7. 
  16. ^ a b Anshory, Irfan (16 August 2004). "Asal Usul Nama Indonesia" (in Indonesian). Pikiran Rakyat. Archived from the original on 15 December 2006. Retrieved 5 October 2006. 
  17. ^ Earl, George SW (1850). "On The Leading Characteristics of the Papuan, Australian and Malay-Polynesian Nations". Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia (JIAEA): 119. 
  18. ^ Logan, James Richardson (1850). "The Ethnology of the Indian Archipelago: Embracing Enquiries into the Continental Relations of the Indo-Pacific Islanders". Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia (JIAEA): 4:252–347. 
  19. ^ Earl, George SW (1850). "On The Leading Characteristics of the Papuan, Australian and Malay-Polynesian Nations". Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia (JIAEA): 254, 277–8. 
  20. ^ a b Justus M van der Kroef (1951). "The Term Indonesia: Its Origin and Usage". Journal of the American Oriental Society 71 (3): 166–71. doi:10.2307/595186. JSTOR 595186. 
  21. ^ Youth Pledge Museum website (Indonesian)
  22. ^ Echols, John M.; Shadily, Hassan (1989), Kamus Indonesia Inggris (An Indonesian-English Dictionary) (6th ed.), Jakarta: Gramedia, ISBN 979-403-756-7 
  23. ^ Friend, T. (2003). Indonesian Destinies. Harvard University Press. p. 601. ISBN 0-674-01137-6. 
  24. ^ Prapanca, Mpu; Robson, S. O.; Owen, Stuart (1995), Nagarakrtagama by Mpu Prapanca ; translated by Stuart Robson, Leiden: KITLV, ISBN 90-6718-094-7 
  25. ^ Vlekke, Bernard H.M. (1943), Nusantara: A History of the East Indian Archipelago (1st ed.), Netherlands: Ayer Co Pub, pp. 303–470, ISBN 978-0-405-09776-8 
  26. ^ "Ein Museum für Multatuli" (in Dutch). Zeit Online. Retrieved 14 October 2012.