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Definition: Java from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

island Indonesia SE of Sumatra; chief city Jakarta area 51,007 sq mi (132,618 sq km), pop 107,581,306

Summary Article: Java
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

(jä'vӘ), island (1990 pop. 107,525,520), c.51,000 sq mi (132,090 sq km), Indonesia, S of Borneo, from which it is separated by the Java Sea, and SE of Sumatra across Sunda Strait. Although Java is the fifth largest island of Indonesia, constituting only one seventh of the country's total area, it contains two thirds of the country's population; it is one of the most densely populated regions in the world. For centuries it has been the cultural, political, and economic center of the area. In Java are the republic's capital and largest city, Jakarta, and the second and third largest cities, Surabaya and Bandung. Tanjungpriok is the chief port, and Yogyakarta and Surakarta are cultural centers.

Land and People

A chain of active volcanic mountains, most densely forested with teak, palms, and other woods, traverses the length of the island from east to west; Mt. Semeru rises to 12,060 ft (3,676 m). There are almost two million acres of planted teak forests; although Java contains only about 3% of the country's forest land, it accounts for much of its timber production. The climate is warm and humid, and the volcanic soil exceptionally fertile, but the island is subject to often deadly earthquakes. There are elaborate irrigation systems supplied by the island's numerous short, turbulent rivers. Found mostly in the interior are such animals as tigers, rhinoceroses, and crocodiles; birds of brilliant plumage are numerous.

Java was a home of early humans; on it were found (1891) the fossilized remains of the so-called Java man (Homo erectus). The typically Malayan inhabitants of the island comprise the Javanese (the most numerous), Sudanese, and Madurese. Numerous Chinese and Arabs live in the cities. Like Bali, Java is known for its highly developed arts. There is a rich literature, and the wayang, or shadow play, employing puppets and musical accompaniment, is an important dramatic form. Java has many state and private institutions of higher learning; most are in Jakarta, but Bandung, Bogor, Yogyakarta, and Surabaya all have several universities.


Most of Indonesia's sugarcane and kapok are grown in Java. Rubber, tea, coffee, tobacco, cacao, and cinchona are produced in highland plantations. Rice is the chief small-farm crop. Cattle are raised in the east. In the northeast are important oil fields; tin, gold, silver, copper, coal, manganese, phosphate, and sulfur are mined. Most of the country's manufacturing establishments are in Java. Industry is centered chiefly in Jakarta and Surabaya, but Bandung is a noted textile center.


Early in the Christian era Indians began colonizing Java, and by the 7th cent. “Indianized” kingdoms were dominant in both Java and Sumatra. The Sailendra dynasty (760–860 in Java) unified the Sumatran and Javan kingdoms and built in Java the magnificent Buddhist temple Borobudur. From the 10th to the 15th cent., E Java was the center of Hindu-Javanese culture. The high point of Javanese history was the rise of the powerful Hindu-Javanese state of Majapahit (founded 1293), which extended its rule over much of Indonesia and the Malay Peninsula. Islam, which had been introduced in the 13th cent., peacefully spread its influence, and the new Muslim state of Mataram emerged in the 16th cent.

Following the Portuguese, the Dutch arrived in 1596, and in 1619 the Dutch East India Company established its chief post in Batavia (now Jakarta), thence gradually absorbing the native states into which the once-powerful Javanese empire had disintegrated. Between 1811 and 1815, Java was briefly under British rule headed by Sir Thomas S. Raffles, who instituted certain reforms. The Dutch ignored these when they returned to power, resorting to a system of enforced labor, which, along with harsh methods of exploitation, led to a native uprising (1825–30) under Prince Diponegoro; the Dutch subsequently adopted a more humane approach.

In the early phase of World War II, Java was left open to Japanese invasion by the disastrous Allied defeat in the battle of the Java Sea in Feb., 1942; Java was occupied by the Japanese until the end of the war. After the war the island was the scene of much fighting between Dutch and Indonesian forces, with the Indonesians declaring independence in 1945. In 1946 the Dutch occupied many of the key cities, and Yogyakarta was the provisional capital of the Republic of Indonesia from 1949 to 1950. Java now constitutes three provinces of Indonesia—West, Central, and East Java—as well as the autonomous districts of Yogyakarta and Jakarta. Overcrowding on Java led to the government's policy of “transmigration,” in which farmers were relocated to less populated Indonesian islands. An earthquake in May, 2006, centered near the coast S of Yogyakarta, killed some 5,800 people and injured more than 36,000.

  • See Geertz, C. , The Religion of Java (1960);.
  • Day, C. , The Dutch in Java (1904, repr. 1966);.
  • Anderson, B. R. , Java in a Time of Revolution (1972);.
  • Koentjaraningrat, R. M. , Javanese Culture (1989).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

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