Home » Practical Information » Expat Stories

Unknown Islands

One thing that makes Indonesia unusual is that it is the largest island nation in the world. There are over 17,000 islands that are officially part of Indonesia - many are uninhabited, remote and do not even have a name.

Then there are the disputed islands that Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia all claim. One island, aptly named “Mischief Creek,” lays between all three countries. Malaysia uses this atoll as a kind of military outpost.

The island has no value; it is too small to have an airstrip and is a long distance to reach by sea. So, the dispute is forgotten, although all three countries still officially claim the island.

So what use are all these uninhabited islands, aside from being an anonymous dot on the map of Indonesia? Some enterprising individuals started selling them on a website and apparently gained a lot of interest.

I am sure most of us would love to own an island, but what would you do with it? Not every island is like the island on “Lost”. There could be nothing there but coconut and banana trees. It would probably take a week or more to get there by boat, if you could find it.

You could become a voluntary Robinson Crusoe. Or, if you are a genuine millionaire, you could escape from the world and create your own imaginary world for real. Religious sects could escape to one of these paradises creating there own brand of heaven upon earth.

Sounds idyllic, for the price of a new Mercedes, except there is one important catch. Foreign nationals are not allowed to own land in Indonesia, never mind an island. People would not suspect this, given that most countries do sell land to people of any nationality. It is only an elaborate con.

The Indonesian government was so annoyed when they found out, that they are now naming many of these unknown islands. They are still looking for the website owners, but one thing is sure. If no one has ever been on many of these islands, I wonder if they will find a real latter day Robinson Crusoe or even a lost tribe that time has forgotten.

by Mark W Medley

Copyright © 2008, Mark W Medley, City of Dreams: An extraordinary journey, inside the heart of Indonesia's capital - Jakarta