A taste of Lombok’s History

The fascinating story behind the stunning little island of Lombok.


The history of Lombok gives us a fascinating insight into how the island evolved to become what it is today. As Lombok has gradually revealed itself to the world over recent years, the island has and continues to, undergo such a fast pace of change that even people living on the island are struggling to keep up.


The first outsiders enter Lombok

Before the seventh century, its native people (called Sasaks) ruled Lombok. We see some outside influence around the seventeenth century when the Balinese took control of Western Lombok and the Makassarese of Sulawesi entered East Lombok. By 1750 the whole island was in Balinese hands. In western Lombok, relations between the Balinese and the Sasaks were fairly harmonious, but East Lombok was a different story with rebellions becoming commonplace from the native Sasak people. The Dutch invaded Lombok in the late 19th century and the Sasak people were subjected to the dark reality of colonisation. The Dutch imposed heavy taxes and facilitated the mass export of local produce that resulted in half a century of poverty and famine.


Indonesian Independence

Proclamation of Indonesian Independence (Proklamasi Kemerdekaan Indonesia

), was read on August 17, 1945. This declaration started the diplomatic and armed resistance against the Dutch forces until they officially acknowledged Indonesia’s Independence in December 1949. This was great news for Lombok, which, as an island had been greatly affected by the Dutch occupation. Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia, tried to regroup Lombok into a larger cluster of islands known as Nusa Tenggara, but the island group proved hard to govern. Even after the Indonesian independence, Lombok continued to be dominated by its Balinese and Sasak elite.

Lombok’s struggles

In 1965 Indonesia was thrust into a dark period of violence, murder and oppression. During what has been dubbed as ‘one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century’ with over one million estimated to have been killed, anyone considered subversive by the new government, such as communists and ethnic Chinese, was killed or displaced. In 1967 the old regime was stripped of all its power and Suharto began a 30-year reign as President. Initially, the new president Suharto's rather harsh New Order plan brought growth and stability to the island, until prolonged famine reached a crippling peak in 1973. Many of the locals moved away from Lombok as part of the transmigration programme implemented by the government.


The growth of tourism in Lombok

Tourism in Lombok began a tentative growth in the 1980's, mainly by outside investors and speculators but the island experienced a worrying setback in 2000 when serious riots escalated into violence in the island’s main town Mataram. After things calmed down Lombok’s reputation as a tranquil and popular alternative to its more developed neighbour Bali grew. The number of visitors coming to the island nowadays is attracting a huge number of investors, developers and entrepreneurs.

What’s next for Lombok?

What is next for this stunning little island? Who knows? With the international airport now open in South Lombok, tourism has boomed along with an incredible amount of development. The powers that be seem to have taken some learnings from Bali and are considering the island’s infrastructure by widening roads and making plenty of road network links. We now hope that any development will keep a healthy respect for local culture, the communities and the environment. It is fascinating to see how quickly this small island is changing to accommodate tourism and how accepting the amazing local people are to this inevitable growth. It is hard to describe the natural beauty of Lombok so if you are reading this and haven’t been yet, you need to come and see it for yourself.


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