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The People of Indonesia, Ethnic Groups

Lake Toba, Toraja, Sulawesi, Minangkabau, Kalimantan

The Javanese, who live mainly in central and eastern Java, are the largest ethnic group, constituting 45 percent of Indonesia’s population. On the western end of Java are the Sundanese, who make up 14 percent of the population and are the second largest group. Other significant ethnic groups include the Madurese, who hail from Madura, off the northeast coast of Java, and make up 8 percent of the population; and the ethnic Malay, who are dispersed throughout several areas, and make up 7 percent of the population. Among the ethnic groups on Sumatra are the Bataks, who cluster around Lake Toba; the Minangkabau, from the western highlands; the Acehnese, from the far north; and the Lampungese, who live in the south. On Sulawesi, the Minahasans live in the north, the Bugis and Makassarese cluster around the coasts in the south, and the Toraja inhabit much of the interior. Kalimantan is populated by more than 200 groups; most of these are tribes of the Dayak ethnic group in the interior or are ethnic Malay living on the coast. The people of Papua are of Melanesian descent, as are some residents from smaller eastern islands. Several million Indonesians of Chinese descent are concentrated in urban areas. Smaller numbers of Indians, Arabs, and Europeans are scattered around the archipelago.

Ethnic tensions simmer in Indonesia. The movement of many Javanese to Papua under the transmigration program has created tensions with native residents there. Many Indonesians have also come into conflict with residents of Chinese origin, who have been historically successful in business ventures and generally enjoy a higher standard of living than Indonesians of Malay descent. Frustration over the actual or perceived wealth of the Chinese has led to riots in towns and cities on Java and other parts of Indonesia, particularly in 1997 and 1998 when the Chinese were blamed for Indonesia’s economic problems. Many Chinese Indonesians fled the country at that time.



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