“Java” comes from the Sanskrit Yavadvipa (“island of barley”). Java island takes an important role in the country’s history and development during the centuries. The Austronesian ancestors of the Javanese arrived perhaps as early as 3000 BC from the Kalimantan coast (Borneo). Apparently the island’s agricultural bounty was renowned from the earliest times “Jawa dwipa”-Sanskrit (संस्कृतम् saṃskṛtam , originally संस्कृता वाक् saṃskṛtā vāk, “refined speech”), is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.
Over the centuries, various native Javanese states emerged. Most were fragile coalitions of regional lords under central dynasties, often embroiled in bloody succession struggles. In the fifteenth century AD , Java’s north coast ports fell under the influence of Muslim Malacca, and under the rule of the descendants of non-Javanese Muslim merchants. The Dutch government took control of Java in the 1830s. A population explosion turned three million Javanese in 1800 to twenty-eight million by 1900. The Javanese took the lead in the Islamic, communist, and nationalist movements that challenged colonialism from early in the twentieth century.
The island of Java is roughly the size of Britain. Some 63 percent of the island is cultivated; 25 percent of the surface is devoted to wet-rice paddies. The northern coastal plain faces the shallow and busy Java Sea. Along the southern shore, plateaus fall sharply to the Indian Ocean. The Javanese homeland consists of the provinces of Central Java and East Java (minus the island of Madura) and the Special Region of Yogyakarta. Javanese have also settled for centuries along the northern coast of West Java, particularly in the area of Cirebon and Banten.
Numbering between 60 million and 80 million people, the Javanese account for more than 40 percent of Indonesia’s total population.
One of the most popular cultural activities is “Wayang Kulit” (the shadow puppet performance). Puppetry is an important part of Indonesian culture. The enlivening stories told during puppet shows present tales of mystery, morality, and myth. Even though they are hidden behind a sheer screen, the puppets are highly decorated, often with brightly colored paints and shiny accents.
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