A touring point was reached sometime in the early 16th Century when the newly founded Islamic kingdoms of Demak (on the north central coast) attacked and conquered the last great Hindu-Buddhist kingdom of Java. They drove the Hindu rulers to the east and annexed the agriculturally rich Javanese hinterlands. Demak then consolidated its control over the entire north coast by subduing Tuban, Gresik, Madura, Surabaya, Cirebon, Banten, and Jayakarta – emerging as the master of Java by the 16th Century.
The traditional account of Islamization of Java is quite different, but equally intersting. According to Javanese chronicles, nine Islamic saints – the so – called walisanga, propagated Islam through the Javanese shadow play (wayang kulit) and gamelan music. They introduced the kalimat shahadat or Islamic confession offaith and the reading of Korannic prayers to performances of the Ramayana and Mahabarata epics. No better explanation could be given for the origins of Islamic syncretism in Java.
Islam in Indonesia in this period, was the faith of traders and urban dwellers, firmly entrenched in the maritime centres of the archipelago. Many of these towns were quite substantial; Malacca is estimated to have had a population of at least 100,0000 in the 16th Century – as large as Paris, Venice and Naples but dwarfed by Peking and Edo (Tokyo) which then had roughly 1 million inhabitants each. Other cities in Indonesia were comparably large: Semarang had 2,000 houses; Jayakarta had an army of 4,000 men; Tuban was then a walled city with 30,000 inhabitants. Such statistics indicate that the urban population of Indonesia in the 16th Century at least equalled the agrarian population. Thus the typical Indonesia that period was not peasant as he is now, but a town dweller engaged as an artisan, sailor or a trader.
Indonesian cities were also physically different from cities in Europe, the Middle East, India or China. Built without walls for the most part, Indonesian cities were located at river mouths or on wide plains, and relied on surrounding villages for their defence. An official envoy from the Sultanate of Aceh (in north Sumatra) to the Ottoman empire, explained that Acehnese defences consisted not of walls, but of “stout hearts in fighting the enemy and a large number of elephants.” Indonesian cities tended also to be very green. Coconut, banana and other fruit trees were everywhere, and most of the widely spaced wooden or bamboo houses had vegetable gardens. The royal compound was the center for defence and might have walls and a moat. With perhaps no more than 5 million people in the entire archipelago land had no intrinsic value except what man made of it. Thus in 1613, when the English wanted some land to build a fortress in Makassar, they had to recompense the residents not for the space but for the coconut trees growing there (at the rate of half a Spanish dollar per tree).
During the 16th Century, Islam in Indonesia continued to spread throughout the Indonesian archipelago but the whole system of Islamic economic and political alliances was swiftly overturned in the dramatic conquest of Malacca in 1511 by a small band of Portuguese. Though the Portuguese, as we shall see, were never able to control more than a portion of the total trade in the region, the capture of Malacca itself had far – reaching consequences. Never again was an Islamic state able to exert the sort of regional infuence once exercised by Malacca. Instead, a number of competing Islamic centers vied with each other and with the Eurepeans for the trade, with the end result that the Dutch were eventually able to divide and conquer almost all of them.
The Islamic kingdom of Aceh, at the northern tip of Sumatra, was best situated to benefit from the fall of Malacca. Islamic traders resorted increasingly to Aceh’s harbour after 1511, and a succession of aggressive Acehnese rulers slowly built an empire by conquering lesser prots all long he eastern coast of Sumatra. Although repeated attacks on Portuguese Malacca and Islamic Johor were unsuccessful, Aceh nevertheless established itself as the major seapower in the archipelago under the reign of Sultan Iskandar Muda (1607 – 36). The Acehnese remained powerful and fiercely independent long after that “Golden Age,” resisting the Dutch right down into this Century. Now Aceh is one of the most devoutly Muslim regions in Indonesia.
In Java during the second half of the 16th Century, the center of power abruptly shifted from the north coast to an area of central Java near Borobudur, Prambanan and the other Hindu-Buddhist monuments of many centuries earlier. The new kingdom was called Mataram, the name both of the area and the classical Javanese kingdoms once located here. Mataram first conquered Demak; the eastern half of Java and other north coastal ports were subdued by about 1625. Although the Mataram dynasy was Muslim, it patterned itself after the great Hindu – Javanese empires of previous centuries. Court chroniclers traced the lineage of the Mataram line to the deva-rajas of Majapahit rather than to the Islamic rulers of Demak. In fact, the fall of Majapahit to Demak was described in these chronicles as, “the disappearance of the Light of the Universe,” rather odd viewpoint for a Muslim writer who describes the demise of an infidel kingdom at the hands of an Islamic saint. Clearly, identification with the prestigious Majapahit royal house was of greater importance than religious solidarity with the coastal powers. And indeed the Islam of the central Javanese courts became an extremely eccentric one – a potpourri of ancient mystical practices, European pomp and Islamic circumstance.
Islam came to the remaining islands of eastern Indonesia only sporadically. The trading port of Makassar, now the city of Ujung Pandang in south Sulawesi, became an important Islamic center. It expanded rapidly towards the end of the 16th Century. It captured a substantial share of the eastern spice trade for several decades, until it was finally forced to submit to the Dutch in 1667. Makassar in the following way: undecided whether to adopt Islam or Christianity, the Makassarese sent emissaries to both Aceh and Portuguese Malacca to request that religious teachers be sent. The Acehnese, according to this account, simply arrived first.
In the Spice Islands of Maluku – Ternate, Tidore, Hitu, Ambon and Banda – most of the native rulers converted to Islam fairly early (in the 15th Century) and maintained close ties with first Malacca, then Makassar. However, in the 16th and 17th centuries these kingdoms were brutally conquered by a succession of European powers and those people who survived were then converted to Christianity.
On other islands, Jesuit missionaries arrived even before the Muslims, and together later Dutch Calvinists established many Christian strongholds. Thus most peoples in the eastern archipelago are now either animist or predominantly Christian, and there is a sense in which Christianity put a stop to Islam’s eastward a advance in the 17th Century. The Philippines, for example, were colonized and actively converted to Catholicism by Spanish, so that only a few southern islands ever became Islamic. However, in terms of numbers if not geographically, Islam continues to be a growing force throughout the archipelago, with over 80 percent of Indonesians declaring themselves disciples of Mohammed.
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