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Papua (Indonesian province)

Map showing Papua province in Indonesia Picture by Julianto Halim)
Map showing Papua province in Indonesia
Picture by Julianto Halim)

Papua is a province of Indonesia located in the western half of the island of New Guinea and nearby islands.

The name West Papua is also in common use, as Papua may also refer to either the entire island of New Guinea or to the southern half of the neighboring country of Papua New Guinea. West Papua is the preferred name among nationalists who hope to separate from Indonesia and form their own country. The province was known as West Irian or Irian Barat from 1969 to 1973Irian is the Indonesian term for the island of New Guinea. It was then renamed Irian Jaya (roughly translated, "Victorious Irian") by Suharto, a name that remained in official use until 2002. During the colonial era the region was known as Dutch New Guinea or Netherlands New Guinea.

In 2004, Papua was subdivided by the Indonesian government into two provinces; the eastern portion retained the name Papua, and the western portion, on the Bird's Head Peninsula, became West Irian Jaya.



Papuans, the native people of New Guinea, have inhabited the island for more than forty thousand years. Papuans are Melanesian, as are the Pacific people of the Solomons, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji; Papua and the Moluccas are part of Australasia. Papua has developed a diversity of separate cultures and languages; there are 253 known languages and over two hundred additional dialects (See Papuan languages).

It is believed the first Europeans to sight New Guinea were the Portuguese, but it was the Dutch vessel Duyfken which first recorded its travel along the southern coast of Papua in 1605. The Duyfken did not explore the coast of Papua, but sailed south into the Gulf of Carpentaria, landing in northern Australia.

In 1828 the Dutch claimed the south coast west of the 141st meridian, and in 1848 added the north coast west of Humboldt Bay. The Netherlands established trading posts in the area after Britain and Germany recognized the Dutch claims in treaties of 1885 and 1895. (At much the same time, Britain claimed south-east New Guinea later known as the Territory of Papua and Germany claimed the north-east later known as the Territory of New Guinea).

The need for a national Papuan government was discussed by graduates of the Dutch Protestant Missionary Teachers College in Mei Wondama, Manokwari during the 1930s. These graduates then continued these discussions among the wider community and its three hundred languages. The College Principal Rev. Kijne also composed Hai Tanahku Papua (Oh My Land Papua) which was adopted as the national anthem in 1961.

In 1942 the northern coast of West Papua and the nearby islands were occupied by the Japanese Empire. Allied forces expelled the Japanese in 1944 and with Papuan approval the United States constructed a huge base and Headquarters for Gen. MacArthur at Hollandia (now Jayapura) as a staging point for operations taking of the Philippines.

After the war ended, the Dutch regained possession of the territory. In March 1945 Japan had appointed Sukarno to head an independence committee for a new nation called Indonesia from the Islands of Java and Sumatra; acknowledged in 1949, in 1950 Indonesia also claimed the Asian islands of Borneo, the Celebes, and the Australasian islands of Timor (under Portuguese administration), the Moluccas, and West Papua. The Dutch eventually surrender their possessions in Borneo, Celebes, and the Moluccas; but retained Netherlands New Guinea which was clearly Melanesian and not Malay in both nature and culture. A governor and an administration of its own, directly under The Hague were appointed.

In 1952, the Netherlands recognized Papuan self-determination as a right in accordance with Article 73 of the Charter of the United Nations, and began preparing the nation for independence. After repeated Indonesian claims for Dutch New Guinea, Indonesia was invited by Holland to present the claim before an International Court of Law, but declined. Concerned that invasion might be a possibility, Holland accelerated its education and technical programs in preparation for independence.

In 1961, the Dutch Foreign Minister, Joseph Luns, launched a plan to have western New Guinea put under UN control. A number of African countries, known as the Brazzaville Group, also called for the territory to be put provisionally under international control. In 1961 an elected Nieuw Guinea Raad (New Guinea Council) became the first Papuan parliament. The new government adopted a national anthem, the Papuan flag (Morning Star), and decided the territory's official name would be "West Papua". The Dutch recognized the flag and anthem (though not the name) on 18 November 1961 (Government Gazettes of Dutch New Guinea Nos. 68 and 69), and these ordinances came into effect on December 1, 1961.

The Morning Star was raised on the 1st December 1961, an act which West Papuan people celebrate each year at flag raising ceremonies as indicative of their national unity and commitment to independence. The date for independence of Netherlands New Guinea was set for 1970.

The Dutch commitment to eventual Papuan independence led to an undeclared war between Indonesia and the Netherlands in New Guinea. On December 19, 1961, Indonesia commenced a guerrilla war against Dutch forces including a minor naval battle on January 19 1962. Behind the scenes, the Netherlands, under pressure from the United States, began negotiations with Indonesia and in August produced the "New York Agreement". The Australian government, which had been a firm supporter of the Dutch independence position, also reversed its policy.

The agreement, ratified in the UN on September 21 1962, stipulated that authority would transer to a United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA) on October 1, and that UNTEA would hand the territory to Indonesia on May 1, 1963, until such time as a UN-conducted "Act of Free Choice" could determine the will of the people.

Since 1962 consistent reports have surfaced of programs of suppression including killings, imprisonments, and aerial bombardments. The Indonesian government disbanded the New Guinea Council, and forbade the use of the new flag or the singing of the national anthem. There has been considerable resistance to Indonesian integration and occupation, both through civil disobedience (such as Morning Star flag raising ceremonies) and via the formation of the quasi-military Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM, or Free Papua Movement) in 1964.

In 1969 Indonesia conducted the widely criticized "Act of Free Choice ". Public voting was deemed to be unnecessary and the Indonesian military selected representatives, provided them with some training in the Indonesian language, and encouraged the representatives to provide a public vote for the assembled troops and two western observers. The observers left after witnessing the first two hundred votes for integration. This procedure was deemed to have been an "Act of Free Choice" in accordance with the United Nations requirements and Indonesia formally annexed the territory in August.

In 1977 construction of the worlds largest copper and gold mine (also the worlds largest open cut mine) began. Under a Indonesian agreement signed in 1967 (two years before the "Act of Free Will") the US company Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. holds a 30 year exclusive mining license for the region from the official opening of the mine (1981). Locals made several violent attempts to dissuade the mine owners, including blowing up a pipeline in July, but order was quickly restored.

The 1990s saw Indonesia accelerate its Transmigration Program and ship approximately 1.2 million Islamic Javanese into West Irian over a ten year period. (Prior to Indonesian rule, most people in the territory belonged to Catholic, Protestant or tribal religions.)

A separatist congress in 2000 again calling for independence resulted in a military crackdown on independence supporters. In 2001 a now majority Islamic population was given limited autonomy. An August 2001 US State Department travel warning advised "all travel by U.S. and other foreign government officials to Aceh, Papua and the Moluccas (provinces of North Maluku and Maluku) has been restricted by the Indonesian government".

During the Abdurrahman Wahid administration in 2000, Papua has been given a Special Autonomy status along with Special Province of Aceh. Despite lack of political will of politicians in Jakarta to proceed with real implementation of the Special Autonomy, which is stipulated with a law, the region has then divided into two provinces, e.g., Province of Papua and Province of Irian Jaya Barat, based on a Presidential Instruction in January 2001 soon after President Wahid been impeached by the Parliament and replaced by the Vice President, Megawati Sukarnoputri. The division of the province is neither directly cancelling the Law of Special Autonomy of Papua nor listening to protest coming from throughout the region.


The nature of Indonesian government in Papua is controversial. International opinion varies a great deal. Some view it as naked colonialism, others maintain that Indonesia represents a legitimate authority with a willing people. Frank expression of views is complicated by the delicate and troubled relationship many nations have with Indonesia.

According to the United States Country Studies - Library of Congress report about Indonesian government structure:

"Since independence the nation has been centrally governed from Jakarta in a system in which the lines of authority, budget, and personnel appointment run outward and downward. Regional and local governments enjoy little autonomy. Their role is largely administrative: implementing policies, rules, and regulations. Regional officialdom is an extension of the Jakarta bureaucracy. The political goal is to maintain the command framework of the unitary state, even at the cost of developmental efficiency. Governments below the national level, therefore, serve essentially as subordinate administrative units through which the functional activities of Jakarta-based departments and agencies reach out into the country."

In 1999 it was proposed to split the province into three government controlled sectors, sparking Papuan protests (see external article ). In 2003 President Megawati signed an order dividing Papua into three Islamic controlled provinces: Central Papua/Irian Jaya (Irian Jaya Tengah ), Papua (or East Paua/Irian Jaya- Irian Jaya Timur ), and West Papua/Irian Jaya (Irian Jaya Barat). The formality of installing a local government for Jaraka in Papua Barat (west) took place in February 2003 and a governor was appointed in November; a government for Papua Tengah (central) was delayed from August 2003 due to violent local protests. It appears the creation of a government for this area has been shelved.

Papuan government in exile

The Papuan Presidium Council is a 31-member umbrella group established in 2000 to negotiate a referendum to end the Indonesian occupation of western New Guinea. The Council was chaired by Theys Eluay , chief of the Sentani tribe and former Chair of the Act of Free Choice Council established by Indonesia in 1969. Eluay was assassinated on November 11, 2001.

Another organization, the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM or Free Papua Movement) often portrayed as a militant movement, claims to seek peaceful dialogue and to maintain the native Melanesian culture.


Indonesia structures regions by Regencies and districts within those. Though names and areas of control of these regional structures can vary over time in accord with changing political and other requirements, in 2001 the Irian Jaya (Papua) Province consisted of 12 regencies (kabupaten), 1 city (kotamadya), 117 subdistricts (kecamatan), 66 kelurahan, and 830 villages (desa).

Map showing major Papuan cities

The Regencies in 2001 were: Biak Numfor; Fak-fak; Jayapura; Jayawijaya; Manokwari; Merauke; Mimika; Paniai; Sorong; Timka; Wamena; and Yapen Waropen. See main article Indonesian Regencies of Papua for further details.

Hollandia, founded in 1910 had by 1962 developed into a city with modern civil, educational, and medical services. Since Indonesian administration these services have been replaced by Indonesian equivalents such as the TNI (military) replacing the Papuan police force. The name of the city has been changed from Hollandia, to Kotabaru then Sukarnopura and finally Jayapura.

Jayapura is the largest city, boasting a small but active tourism industry, it is a neat and pleasant city built on a slope overlooking the bay. Cendrawasih University campus houses the Jayapura Museum. Tanjung Ria beach well known to the Allies during the WW II, is a popular holiday resort now with facilities for water sports, and General Douglas MacArthur's World War II quarters are still intact.

As many primary businesses in the province are owned or conducted in cooperation with the TNI (such as Freeport employing TNI troops to maintain an large exclusion area around its Grasberg mine), it is advisable to stay a distance away from such mining or forestry operations.


Land Area
Area 420,540 km2
Comparable California
Average Annual Climate
Rain fall 1.8 to 3 m
Temperature 19-28 C
Humidity 80%

A central East-West mountain range dominates the geography of New Guinea, over 1600 km in total length. The western section is around 600 km long and 100 km across. Steep mountains 3 to 4 km and up to 5 km high along the range ensures a steady supply of rain from the tropical atmosphere. The treeline is around 4 km high and the tallest peaks are snowbound year round.

Both North and West of the central ranges the land remains mountainous mostly 1 to 2 km high covered by thick rain forests and a warm humid year round climate.

The third major habitat feature is the south east lowlands with extensive wetlands stretching for hundreds of kilometers.

The province has 40 major rivers, 12 lakes, and 40 islands. The Mamberamo river, sometimes reffered to as the "Amazon of Papua" is the province's largest river which winds through the northern part of the province. The result is a large area of lakes and rivers known as the Lakes Plains region. The famous Baliem Valley home of the Dani people is a tableland 1600 m above sea level in the midst of the central mountain range; Carstensz Pyramid (Puncak Jaya) is a mist covered limestone mountain peak 4884 m above sea level.

Tribal groupings in West Papua

Lani, perhaps better known as Dani.

Mee .


Sentani .



Asmat .


A vital tropical rainforest with the tallest tropical trees and vast biodiversity, Papua's known forest fauna includes marsupials (including possums, wallabies, tree kangaroos, cuscus), other mammals (including the endangered long-beaked echidna), many bird species (including birds of paradise, casuarius, parrots, Censored pages), the world's longest lizards (Papua monitor) and the world's largest butterflies.

Animal Class Est. Number
Mammal 180
Marsupial 70
Bird 700
endemic bird 450
Bats 70

The island has an estimated 16,000 species of plant, 124 genera of which are endemic.

The extensive waterways and wetlands of Papua are also home to salt and freshwater crocodile, tree monitors , flying foxes, osprey, bats and other animals; while the equatorial glacier fields remain largely unexplored.

Ecological dangers include deforestation at an alarming rate; the spread of the exotic Crab-eating Macaque which now threatens the existence of many species; pollution such as Grasberg mine dumping 190,000 tons of copper and gold tailings into the rivers system each day;

External links

  • The Deforesting of Irian Jaya, 1994
  • Monkeys Threaten Papua's Wildlife http://veederandld.20 .
  • Wetlands Study

Postage stamps

During the 1960s, the region had its own postage stamps. The first were overprints reading "UNTEA" (United Nations Temporary Executive Authority) applied to the stamps of Dutch New Guinea, issued in 1962. There are four slightly different types of overprint, three types applied locally, and a fourth made in the Netherlands and sold by the UN in New York City.

These were superseded on 1 May 1963 by stamps of Indonesia overprinted "IRIAN BARAT" and a series of six commemoratives whose designs included a map of Indonesia stretching "from Sabang to Merauke " and a parachutist landing in New Guinea. These, as were later issues in 1968 and 1970, were inscribed both "IRIAN BARAT" and "REPUBLIK INDONESIA". The last issue specifically for the territory consisted of two depicting birds (Black-Capped Lory and Bird of Paradise), issued 26 October 1970.

See also

External links

  • Online Library West Papua, Irian Jaya
  • Extensive Library, some material written by Lani (highland) tribespeople
  • PapuaWeb
  • "Human Abuse in West Papua - Application of Law to Genocide"
  • "Prison, Torture and Murder in Jayapura - Twelve Days in an Indonesian Jail" (Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 2000)
  • Map showing the three new provinces
  • Declassified US documents on "Act of free choice"

Provinces of Indonesia Flag of Indonesia
Sumatra (Sumatera):

DI Aceh | North Sumatra (Sumatera Utara) | West Sumatra (Sumatera Barat) | Bengkulu | Riau | Riau Islands (Kepulauan Riau) | Jambi | South Sumatra (Sumatera Selatan) | Lampung | Bangka-Belitung

Java (Jawa):

DKI Jaya | West Java (Jawa Barat) | Banten | Central Java (Jawa Tengah) | DI Yogyakarta | East Java (Jawa Timur)


West Kalimantan (Kalimantan Barat) | Central Kalimantan (Kalimantan Tengah) | South Kalimantan (Kalimantan Selatan) | East Kalimantan (Kalimantan Timur)

The Lesser Sunda Islands (Nusa Tenggara):

Bali | West Nusa Tenggara (Nusa Tenggara Barat) | East Nusa Tenggara (Nusa Tenggara Timur)


West Sulawesi (Sulawesi Barat) | North Sulawesi (Sulawesi Utara) | Central Sulawesi (Sulawesi Tengah) | South Sulawesi (Sulawesi Selatan) | South East Sulawesi (Sulawesi Tenggara) | Gorontalo

The Maluku Islands and New Guinea (Irian):

Maluku | North Maluku (Maluku Utara) | West Irian Jaya (Irian Jaya Barat) | Papua

Countries in Oceania
Australia | East Timor | Fiji | Kiribati | Marshall Islands | Federated States of Micronesia | Nauru | New Zealand | Palau | Papua New Guinea | Samoa | Solomon Islands | Tonga | Tuvalu | Vanuatu
Other political units: American Samoa | Cook Islands | Easter Island | French Polynesia | Guam | Hawaii | Maluku Islands | Midway Atoll | New Caledonia | Niue | Norfolk Island | Northern Mariana Islands | Papua (Indonesia) | Pitcairn Islands | Tokelau | Wake Island | Wallis and Futuna | West Timor

Last updated: 02-11-2005 00:06:27
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01