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New Guinea

New Guinea, located just north of Australia, is the world's second largest island having become separated from the Australian mainland when the area now known as the Torres Strait flooded around 5000 BC. The name Papua also refers to the island in whole or in part. (Refer to Papua (disambiguation) for clarification.)


Political divisions

The island is divided politically along east-west lines, roughly into equal halves:

  • The portions of the island of New Guinea (Irian in Bahasa Indonesia) located west of 141E longitude (see map) are incorporated into Indonesia as the provinces:
    • West Irian Jaya (Irian Jaya Barat)with Merauke as its capital
    • Papua (formerly Irian Jaya)with the city of Jayapura as its capital. A proposal to split this into Papua Tengah (Central Papua) and Papua Timur (East Papua) has not been implemented.
Papuans actively have supported a broad-based independence movement, the Organisasi Papua Merdeka or OPM, against Indonesia since 1962. Its military arm is the TPN, or the Liberation Army of Free Papua. The Indonesian authorities view this as a separatist and a terrorist movement, the members of which are guilty of high treason. The OPM has charged the Indonesian government with racism, genocide, political assassination, torture and terrorism. Amnesty International has estimated more than 100,000 Papuans have died as a result of government-sponsored violence against West Papuans, while others have set the number at more than 200,000.
  • The eastern part forms the primary part of the nation of Papua New Guinea, which has been an independent country since 1975.

The people

Populated by nearly a thousand different Papua Melanesian tribal groups since 45,000 BC, New Guinea is the home of the world's oldest independent societies and a staggering number of separate languages, the Papuan languages. The separation was not merely linguistic; warfare among societies was a factor in the evolution of the men's house: separate housing of groups of adult men, from the single-family houses of the women and children, for mutual protection against the other groups. Pig-based trade between the groups and pig-based feasts are a common theme with the other peoples of Southeast Asia and Oceania. Most societies practice agriculture, supplemented by hunting and gathering.

The island's population is comprised of roughly two root, indigenous ethnic groups: Papuans, and Austronesians. Papuans are black, Africanoid peoples with brown skin and woolly hair. Current archaeological evidence indicates they are the oldest human residents of New Guinea, and they constitute the majority of the West Papuan population. Papuans are thought to be closely related to the San bushmen, who migrated from southeast Africa in prehistoric times to populate southern India and, later, nearby Australia. Their close genetic descendants populated the other islands of Melanesia and the Bismarck Archipelago, as well. Austronesians are of Southeast Asian, or Micronesian, stock. These seafaring peoples colonized New Guinea from the north, it is estimated, several thousand years after the arrival of the Papuans. Over the millennia, the confluence of people and cultures of the islands of Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia, and the region's history of European and Asian colonization, have combined to create a highly ethnically diverse island. The Indonesian government of West Papua has instituted an aggressive transmigration program designed to bring chiefly Sumatran and Javanese immigrants to the island to tip the largely black population toward a more Asian "balance." To date, more than 1 million Asian immigrants have arrived in West Papua as part of the transmigration program.


With some 786,000 km² of tropical land, New Guinea has an immense ecological value: 11,000 plant species; nearly 600 unique bird species, including the birds of paradise; over 400 amphibians; 455 butterfly species; marsupials including bondegezou, Goodfellow's tree kangaroo, Huon tree kangaroo, long-beaked echidna, tenkile , alpine wallaby, cuscus and possums; and various other mammal species. Most of these species are shared, at least in their origin, with the continent of Australia, which was until fairly recent geological times, part of the same landmass. See Australia-New Guinea for an overview.


The first European claim occurred in 1828, when the Netherlands formally claimed the western half of the island. In 1883, following a short-lived French annexation of New Ireland, the self-governing colony of Queensland annexed south-eastern New Guinea. However, the Queensland government's superiors in the United Kingdom revoked the claim, and (formally) assumed direct responsibility in 1884, when Germany claimed north-eastern New Guinea as a protectorate. The first Dutch government posts were established in 1898 and in 1902 Manokwari on the North coast, Fak-Fak in the West and Merauke in the South at the border with British New Guinea (later renamed Papua).

Both the Dutch and the British tried to suppress warfare and headhunting once common between the villages of the populace.

In 1906 the British government transferred total responsibility for south-east New Guinea to Australia. During World War I, Australian forces seized German New Guinea, which in 1920 became a League of Nations mandated territory of Australia. The Australian territories became collectively known as The Territories of Papua and New Guinea (until February 1942).

Netherlands New Guinea and the Australian territories were invaded in 1942 by the Japanese. The Australian territories were put under military administration and were known simply as New Guinea. The highlands, northern and eastern parts of the island became key battlefields in the South West Pacific Theatre of World War II. Papuans often gave vital assistance to the Allies, fighting alongside Australian and US troops, and carrying equipment and injured men across New Guinea. Following the return to civil administration, the Australian section was known as the Territory of Papua-New Guinea (1945-49) and then as Papua and New Guinea. Although the rest of the Dutch East Indies achieved independence as Indonesia on 27 December 1949, the Netherlands regained control of western New Guinea.

During the 1950s the Dutch government began to prepare Netherlands New Guinea for full independence and allowed elections in 1959; an elected Papuan Council, the New Guinea Council (Nieuw Guinea Raad) took office on April 5 1961. The Council decided on the name of West Papua, a national emblem, a flag called the Morning Star or Bintang Kejora, and a national anthem; these were adopted and the flag was first raised — next to the Dutch flag — on December 1 1961. However, Indonesia threatened with an invasion, after full mobilisation of its army, by 15 August 1962. It had received with military help from the Soviet Union. Under strong pressure of the Kennedy administration the Dutch, who were prepared to resist an Indonesian attack, had to go to the conference table. On 1 October 1962 the Dutch handed over the territory to a temporary UN administration (UNTEA). On 1 May 1963 Indonesia took control. The territory was renamed West Irian and then Irian Jaya. In 1969 Indonesia, under the 1962 New York Agreemnt had to organize a plebiscite to seek the consent of the Papuans for Indonesian rule. This so called Act of Free Choice (Pepera) resulted under strong threats and intimidations of the Indonesian army in a 100 % vote for continued Indonesian rule.

From 1971, the name Papua New Guinea was used for the Australian territory. In 1975, Australia granted full independence to Papua New Guinea.

In 2000, amid increasing discontent and opposition to Indonesian rule, Irian Jaya was formally renamed "The Province of Papua" and a large measure of "special autonomy" was granted in 2001. This law on special autonomy, however, was never implemented. On the contrary, beginning of 2003 President Megawati Sukarnoputri announced the division of the province into three parts, while the name "Papua" for the province would again revert to Irian. With strong public protest by Papuans only the province of West Irian Jaya, with Manokwari as its capital, covering the Bird's Head peninsula was split from Papua Province. In 2005 a new proposal came from Jakarta to split the province into five provinces, with the clear purpose to eliminate all anti-Indonesian and pro-independence action.

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