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About Irian – West Papua

 

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Irian Jaya Map
Irian Jaya - West Papua

The Land

Irian – West Papua,  recently known as Indonesia’s most eastern  Province of Papua is the western half of the island of second largest island in the world  after Greenland – New Guinea. It occupies a vast territory and stretchs from 00 19’ to 100 45’ South Latitude and from 1300 45’ to 1410 48’ East Longitude, with number of islands along the coastline like : Biak, Numfor, Yapen, Mapia, and Meosum islands to the north; Salawati, Batanta, Gag Waigeo, and Yefman islands to the west; and Kalepon, Komoron, Adi Dolok, and Panjang to the south. The total land area 410,600 km sq ( 160,134 sq miles and measures 1,200 kms ( 744 miles ) from East to West ( Jayapura to Sorong ) and 736 kms ( 456 miles ) from North to South ( Jayapura to Merauke ).

The land topography consist of tidal lowlands in the coastal areas and mountainous regions covered by endless carpets of solid rain forest, spectacular grasslands and wild sugarcane – covered valleys. Meandering rivers wind through the verdant countryside and emptying into azure seas ringed by coral – lagooned coastlines. The central part of the island is a cloud – piercing rugged mountain ranges extends 406 miles and divides the island into north and south. There are three highest peak at these mountain ranges i.e : Carstenz at 4.800 meters ,  Trikora at 3.700 meters and Yamin at 3.4000 meters above sea levels  are eternally covered with snow.

Flora and Fauna

The flora and fauna of Irian – West Papua are unique. The wildlife is strange and diverse, and much of it can not be found anywhere else. About 650 species of birds in Irian, of which  454 are  indigenous makes Irian as the best place for birding.    Among these are the spectacular bird of paradise (Paradise spoda), the exotic blue mambruk (Gobravictorial), and the flightless caaowary (Kasuarius), which is related to the Australian emu. Most of these species are shared, at least in their origin with Australian, which was until fairly recent geological time, part of the same landmass.

Experts estimate that insects species number in hundreds of thousands including magnificent bird-wing butterflies and more than 800 species of spider. Strangerly, in this huge landmass there is no large mammals or primate can be seen. The only large animal can be seen are wild pig or boars, cassowari bird ( flightless bird ) and fresh water corocodile found in the large river in the coastal swampy areas. Along the north and south coastal areas giant saltwater crocodile occupies the remote territory.

With an estimated 2,000 nautical mile coastline and numerous rivers and lakes, Irian – West Papua has many fish and other exotic sea-life. In Adddition to its vast resources of fish and marines life, its corals, reefs and other tropical sea life are the best sites for diving and snorkeling.

Irian – West Papua has the richest concentration of plant life in Indonesia or maybe in the world, many species are medicinal but many more are unknown.  About 90% of the land or 40 million hectares, is covered by dense forest that range from lowland tropical rain forest to dry evergreen forest even medium and high altitude alpine growth. There are more than 1,000 species of trees in Irian, and of these about 150 varieties are commercially viable, including gaharu tree

Climate

Irian – West Papua lies just south of equator, but, due to its mountainous terrain, its climate is more varied than other parts of Indonesia.

The People and Tradition

There are two native people groups to be found in Papua. Melanesians (generally  islanders such as Biak and Sorong) and Papuans (formerly known as Negritos) with two distinct Papuan and Austronesian language groups.

What is known is that approximately 40,000 years ago the first Papuans arrived by boat/raft in West New Guinea. The later arrival of the Austronesians pushed the Papuans eastward resulting in the occupation of the highlands about 30,000 years ago. It is assumed that the Papuans originated in Africa with one theory postulating their departure as in East Africa - near what is now Madagascar - and moving through mainland Asia and then into the islands.

The Papuans went on to populate the mountain areas and most of the lowland areas. What is not clear is if there were two similar migrations through both the lowlands and the highlands or if there was one basic migration with people sometimes moving to the mountains from the lowlands and sometimes moving from the mountains to the lowlands.

Both of these native people groups bring their own tradition with them which remain unchanged until the arrival of European explorer at early 16th and 17th century and even recently  after the intergration of West New Guinea or Papua into Indonesia or after the arrival of western missionaries who stayed and live together with local Papuans. In most areas exception in some main principal towns, the natives living in contrast together with a new modern living of some new outsider who settle the island for varies purposes and different background.

The rugged mountain terrain and impenetrable tropical rain forest of the north and south lowland made several tribal groups in the interior had been isolated for hundreds years and developed a tribal culture, each tribe having its own language. Expert have divided these 250 languages into four families called phylum, which share less than 5 % of their vocabulary. The most popular phylum is that of Trans-New Guinea, which include about 67% of that languages. 

History

Indonesian New Guinea or Irian – West Papua inhabited for more than ten thousand years. Archaeologist research shown that people have live in the interior of West Papua since the end of the Pleistocene epoch.
The ending of the major migrations into the New Guinea area did not of course mean an end to cultural, racial and linguistic interactions with the neighbors. Eastern New Guineans (PNG) in particular maintained trade throughout the local islands. Of course most of that interaction involved the island peoples and only rarely other people groups.

Blood (genetic) research confirms the above. An H. C. Bos found genetic conformity between Biak, Halmahera, Seram, Kai islands and Alor. Migrations, war, slave trading and rescued castaways all contributed to this conformity. Certainly the Biak people and their related neighbors were not quietly sitting at home! Records indicate slave raids to the Moluccas, Timor and to East Java. They also engaged in regular trading but for the most part it seems their visits to parts foreign were hostile. Indeed, for the Kisar Timorese the word Papuan mean pirate! They also were often in Makassar for trade and in particular for trees for the Biak long distance outrigger prahus.

Not all these visits were made on their own. The evidence suggests that sometime in the 15th century the Biak area fell under the control of the Tidore Empire. They paid tribute to Tidore which was handled through mediators from Halmahere. Whether as part of their tribute obligations or whether they participated for their own profit (alliance) Biak people often took part in Tidore raids westwards (Java, Timor etc) as well.

Other evidence of East-West contact dates even further back. In Borobudur, which dates from the 8th century, can be found friezes depicting frizzy/curly hair peoples. The Negarakertagama, a poem from the 14th century dedicated to the east Javanese king of Majapahit, refers to Papua as well. Specifically, it names two areas called Onin and Seran on the southwestern side of the Bird's Head Peninsula. Of course for many centuries there has also been trade items such as Birds of Paradise feathers and massoi bark found throughout Indonesia. Clearly contact was ongoing between Papua and the rest of Indonesia.

Recently

Not until 1511 did Papua meet the Western world when Spanish sailors sighted New Guinea but did not come ashore. In 1527 the Spanish visited and landed in Papua. However, not until the late 1600's does Papua come under Dutch control. In 1855 missionaries began their work in Papua but it was not until 1908 that a permanent presence was established. Dutch control was briefly upset during World War Two but was reestablished thereafter. However, on May 1st 1963 Indonesia assumed full administrative control of West Papua and in 1969 Papua became a full member province of Republik Indonesia which is now named  Province of Papua ”.

 

 

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