… Here I am in Great Barrington, golden leaves gently making their way to the ground as a first light snowfall melts off the eaves. I have decided to keep my little black Atlas of the World, published by The Times, on my desk, after realizing that in spite of all my global publishing, reading, and thinking, too, my knowledge of geography and demography is woefully inadequate. This passage from The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama (know that name?) is apt:
Indonesia is a nation of islands – more than seventeen thousand in all, spread along the equator between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, between Australia and the South China Sea. Most Indonesians are of Malay stock and live on the larger islands of Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Bali. On the far eastern islands like Ambon and the Indonesian portion of New Guinea the people are, in varying degrees, of Melanesian ancestry. Indonesia’s climate is tropical, and its rain forests were once teeming with exotic species like the orangutan and the Sumatran tiger. Today, those rain forests are rapidly dwindling, victim to logging, mining, and the cultivation of rice, tea, coffee, and palm oil. Deprived of their natural habitat, orangutans are now an endangered species; no more than a few hundred Sumatran tigers remain in the wild.
With more than 240 million people, Indonesia’s population ranks fourth in the world, behind China, India, and the United States. More than seven hundred ethnic groups reside within the country’s borders, and more than 742 languages are spoken there. Almost 90 percent of Indonesia’s population practice Islam, making it the world’s largest Muslim nation. Indonesia is OPEC’s only Asian member, although as a consequence of aging infrastructure, depleted resources, and high domestic consumption it is now a net importer of crude oil. The national language is Bahasa Indonesia. The capital is Jakarta. The currency is the rupiah.
Most Americans can’t locate Indonesia on a map.