The Flag of Indonesia: History, Meaning, and Symbolism

Written by Taiwo Victor
Published: January 22, 2023
Share this post on:

Located in Asia, Indonesia is an archipelago that sits in the southeastern part of the continent between the Indian and Pacific oceans. Because it is an island country, it shares both land and maritime borders with several countries; it shares land borders with Papua New Guinea, a part of Malaysia, East Timor, and naval borders with countries like Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, etc. 

Officially known as the Republic of Indonesia, the nation was originally known as the Dutch East Indies and has played a vital role in the world of trade since the 7th century. Its present name did not become official until after its independence. The name had been in use since as early as the 19th century. Despite being a country with a complex history, one of the things about Indonesia that is not so complex is its flag.

This article describes the history and symbolism of the Indonesian flag. To understand why this seemingly simple flag was chosen, you must understand the history of the nation. Keep reading to learn more.

844 People Couldn't Ace This Quiz

Think You Can?

Characteristics of Indonesia

Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago and also the world’s fourth-most populous country.

©Akhmad Dody Firmansyah/

Indonesia is one of the most populated countries in the world. The country has a population of over 280 million people spread over 1,904,569 square kilometers (735,358 square miles). As such, the country is the world’s largest archipelago and also the world’s fourth-most populous country. Also, it is the most populous Muslim-majority country in the world. As the world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia contains over 17,000 islands, with most of them identified and registered by the United Nations and more than 7,000 still left uninhabited. Some of the most popular islands include Java, which is also the most populated, Sulawesi, and Sumatra.

Indonesia has a sense of cohesion despite being a nexus of various peoples and cultures thanks to a centralized government and a shared language. Around 1,300 different native ethnic groups make up the ethnically diverse nation of Indonesia, with the Javanese making up the largest ethnic group, accounting for 40.2% of the population and dominating politics. The country’s official language is Indonesian, and like many of the other unofficial languages used by the country’s citizens, it has Austronesian roots.

These various languages are used across various ethnic groups. Also, as mentioned earlier, Indonesia is the most populous Muslim-majority country in the world, and as such, the most practiced religion in the country is Islam. However, there are dispersed Christian communities all around the nation. Apart from Islam and Christianity, other religions recognized by the country’s constitution are Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

Founding of Indonesia

The inhabitation of the area that is now Indonesia dates as far back as the 7th century. However, it is also believed that the country must have existed during the Pleistocene era (four million years BC) as an area still connected to the modern Asian mainland. The earliest history of modern humans dates as far back as 40,000 years when the sea level was lower and the area was connected to Asia by a land bridge. These bridges were buried approximately 6,000 years ago due to a postglacial sea level increase. The Indonesian archipelago, the world’s largest island group, was then created.

After the rise in the sea level, the only way for people that occupied the Indonesian region at the time to communicate with other parts of the continent was through boats. This facilitated trade between the region and countries like China and India. This period also signified the introduction of religions like Hinduism and Buddhism to the area. Islam wasn’t introduced until the 13th century.

The first Europeans to arrive in the area were Portuguese traders in the early 16th century. Then Dutch and British traders followed at the beginning of the 17th century. The Dutch slowly expanded their dominance over Java and the Moluccas during the 17th century. However, they did not have much of an impact on the rest of Indonesia, but by the 18th century, they had entirely conquered the region and established the Dutch East Indies as a nationalized colony. Over the course of the 19th century, the Dutch were still capturing other parts of the region to add to their territory.

The Indonesians were not treated fairly by the Dutch, so they were relieved when the Dutch surrendered to the Japanese in 1942, but those ones treated them the same and exploited their resources. However, this oppression helped fuel the previously suppressed independence movement, and Japan surrendered a few years after. In an effort to reclaim all of Indonesia, the Dutch occupied the independent regions in the summer of 1947. However, they were compelled to retreat, largely as a result of opposition from Indonesians and the USA. The Dutch finally consented to acknowledge Indonesian independence on November 2, 1949. In December 1949, they withdrew their forces.

History of the Flag of Indonesia

The Indonesian flag was adopted in 1945.


In 1945, when the Indonesian people proclaimed their independence from the Netherlands, the present Indonesian flag was adopted. When the revolutionary movement achieved its objective in 1950, the flag was formally acknowledged by other countries as the symbol of Indonesia. Like its symbolism, the history behind the flag is also debated. The Indonesian national flag, Sang Saka Merah Putih, which means “The Red and White,” is often thought to be based on the banner of the Majapahit kingdom, which ruled in the 13th century. However, others believe that the flag was gotten from the Dutch flag that was flown during the colonial era. Due to the Dutch flag’s three horizontal red, white, and blue stripes, it is thought that the people of the period tore off the bottom stripe and used the remaining portion to represent themselves.

Meaning and Symbolism of the Flag of Indonesia

The white stripe on the Indonesian flag represents purity, and the red represents courage.

© Brumby

The flag of Indonesia is one of the simplest flag designs of any country in the world. Simple red (top) and white (bottom) horizontal bars make up the flag’s two colors. The meaning of the red and white colors of the Indonesian flag has been debated. One of them is that white represents purity and red represents courage. According to another theory, the colors red and white combined stand for a full human being, with red denoting the human body or physical life and blood, and white denoting the soul or spiritual life.

Up Next:

The Flag of Argentina: History, Meaning, and Symbolism

The Flag of Namibia: History, Meaning, and Symbolism

Countries With Striped Flags

More from A-Z Animals

The Featured Image

Indonesia Flag Vector Flat Icon
The flag of Indonesia is a horizontal bicolor of red and white.

Share this post on:
About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals, tech, and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.