Krakatoa's Eruption - The
One of the most cataclysmic events of recent history may not
have just a geological impact but a geopolitical one, as suggested by
renowned author Simon Winchester.
Winchester's premise is twofold: that the blasting out of
existence of the island of Krakatoa was a catastrophe that gave birth to the
concept of global village while triggering a revolt that gave birth to
modern-day Islamic fundamentalism.
The eruption, in August 1883, was not only of a volcano but
an explosion of social, political, religious and economic forces in the
Dutch colony of Java. Krakatoa set the
scene for the rise of such entrenched anti-colonial and anti-Christian
sentiment that it is intrinsically linked to the fanaticism of Osama bin
The anti-colonial mullahs used Krakatoa as a sign to the
peasantry of the revenge of Allah against not only the infidel Dutch and
their allies, but also those Muslims who supported them.
Some 24 European civilians were massacred in a revolt that erupted five years
later. Although ruthlessly put down by the Dutch in one of the world's first wars on terror, the Bantan
Peasants' Revolt of 1888 is still regarded as the first step leading to the expulsion of Europeans and the creation
of the modern state of Indonesia in 1949. The revolt was inspired by letters from Arabia (Yemen, apparently), which
may be the dim outlines of the first global terrorist network.
More immediately plausible is Krakatoa's relationship to the global village. The tectonic
collision that gave rise to the volcanic blast caused the first tremors on May 10, and first serious concerns that
something terrible was afoot on May 15. London knew all about it on May 24.
The speed of communication - you could actually get a Morse message between Asia and London in
just three hours by the quickest route - was a product of the newly invented electric telegraph and submarine
The telegraph arrived in the East Indies in 1856 and submarine cable - the fastest means of
getting a message around the world - in 1870.
By 1872, London could speak directly to Sydney.
To give an idea of the improvement in speed of message transmission, just 50 years earlier it
had taken two months for news of Napoleon's death on St Helena to reach London.
While the physical tremors from Krakatoa were felt as far as 4500km from the source, the
emotional tremors were felt around the civilized world.
The news must have been received with the same trepidation as that sparked by the Chernobyl
nuclear accident 100 years later. The scale of the disaster is still awesome.
At 10.02am on August 27, more than nine cubic kilometers of
rock were literally blasted out of existence, a massive ash plume headed
skyward, some reaching the fringes of space. The noise was heard more than
4500km away, including in parts of western and northern Australia.
More than 160 villages ceased to exist as a series of
volcano-inspired tidal waves up to 35m high swept across the coast. Such was
the force of the waves that the steamer Berouw was lifted and unceremoniously
dumped more than 2km up the Koeripan River from its original position in its
The human toll was staggering for the time: the final death
count was 36,417. The world's atmospheric temperature dropped by one
It sparked weeks of blood-red sunsets from China to South
Africa and by its vividness tricked firemen at Poughkeepsie on the Hudson River
into thinking the bush outside town was alight.
Read some other interestng Facts about Krakatoa.