Sunday's megaquake was not the first time, or even the second,
that a major geological event in Indonesia has killed tens of
From the 1815 eruption of Mt. Tambora to the 1883 explosion of
Krakatoa, Indonesia's seismic tragedies of the past two centuries
have altered human history well beyond the Pacific's so-called Ring
of Fire, sending geopolitical, economic, and even artistic
repercussions across the planet.
The havoc wrought by the tsunami that swamped southern Asia
Sunday is a stark reminder that humanity is bound together as much
by geological forces - often unseen and occasionally devastating -
as by the tides of commerce and culture.
This latest natural disaster will have profound effects on the
politics and economies of the Indian Ocean. Separatist movements in
Sri Lanka and in Indonesia's Aceh province suffered thousands of
casualties, and India's pummeled Nicobar and Andaman islands have
often been used by rebels from both movements.
How well governments respond to the tragedy, say historians,
could shape those conflicts and their nations for years to come.
"Some people think natural calamities are a signal from god," says
Taufik Abdullah, an Indonesian historian trained at Cornell
University. Historically "quite often natural rebellions have
triggered social rebellions," he says.
Indonesian quakes have touched off global political aftershocks
The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa off southern Sumatra is considered
by some historians to be the world's first global media event. The
invention of the telegraph and creation of news services like
Reuters allowed Americans "to read of the devastation over breakfast
the next day," says Simon Winchester, a trained geologist and author
of the 2003 book "Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded."
Tsunamis generated by that eruption killed 40,000 on Java and
Sumatra. The explosion was heard as far away as Australia and India,
and threw millions of tons of ash into the atmosphere that affected
global weather for years. Krakatoa's ash helped cool temperatures
around the world and led to stunning sunsets in Europe and the US
that captivated artists.
Late Hudson River School painters were drawn to the gaudy evening
skies, and some art historians now believe the blood-red heavens in
Edvard Munch's iconic painting of alienation and fear, "The Scream,"
were inspired by those sunsets.
In Europe, Mary Shelley penned her grim tale of Frankenstein
while huddled inside that year, and her literary friend Lord Byron
wrote, "the bright sun was extinguish'd..., and the icy earth swung
blind and blackening in the moonless air."
The 1883 explosion also helped generate one of the largest early
challenges to Dutch colonial rule in the archipelago, and also
planted the first seeds of modern Islamist political activity in