Papua New Guinea Brief History

By | November 1, 2021

Some places I visited in Papua New Guinea during my trip: agats, jiwika, kurima, manokwari, wamena, pyramid and kimbim, rainer stalvik

New Guinea, the world’s second largest island, has long been one of the earth’s least explored areas and has therefore attracted both researchers and explorers. Here they encountered harsh climatic conditions in the form of heat, humidity, heavy tropical rains and diseases that made their work more difficult. Some regions of New Guinea are among the most severely affected malaria areas in the world.

According to a2zgov, the island of New Guinea is today divided into an Indonesian and an independent part, Papua and Papua New Guinea (PNG). My trip included visits to places only in the Indonesian part.

The deep rainforests, which for the most part cover New Guinea, the mountainous regions and the large swamp areas in the south were populated by warlike tribes who were both main hunters and cannibals. They also posed a threat to the first visitors.

Climatic conditions and the risk of malaria have not changed, however, tribal wars have ceased, so visiting New Guinea is still stressful.

Traveling on your own in Papua is not the easiest thing because there is no well-functioning infrastructure. To be able to move, you must have access to local communications in the form of buses, taxis or motorcycle taxis. You must also have access to boat transport, or even charter aircraft to get ahead. Traveling is therefore both complicated and expensive. The easiest way to visit Papua is to hire a tour operator and supplement the trip with as many of your own activities as possible, which I did.

This trip was one of my toughest so far. I got to try the heat and humidity, but also flea bites, rats that ran in the rooms where you slept at night and at some point also over your feet, attack by a monkey in Bali, the pig shit on the muddy hiking trails in the Bali Valley, the stench, uncomfortable local transport, dangerous and long boat trips and a not always perfectly functioning travel plan etc. However, I seem to have escaped malaria!

Although it was often arduous and heavy to travel in Papua, all the extremely exciting and fascinating things I got to experience during the trip outweighed the less comfortable. The tour of Papua led to many interesting encounters with people in their own environments and provided opportunities for insights into their cultural traditions.

New Guinea name issue

When the Portuguese discovered the island in 1511, they named it “Ihlas dos Papuas”, which means “Island with the frizzy hairstyles”, which referred to the creative hairstyles of the inhabitants. The name Papua can be derived from the Malay word papuwah.

Later, Dutch explorers renamed the western part of the island to Dutch New Guinea and it became part of the Dutch East Indies. The fact that the Dutch named the area New Guinea was because they thought that the inhabitants, with their dark skin, resembled those who lived in Guinea on the west coast of Africa.

When the Dutch gave the Indonesians their freedom in 1945, the province was renamed Irian Barat (Western Irian) and then Irian Jaya, which has its origins in the Indonesian language Bahasa Indonesia (Jaya) and in the local Biak language (Irian). Jaya means victorious and irian “hot land rising from the sea”.

The growing resistance of the local freedom movement forced the Indonesian government to rename Irian Jaya to Papua on December 26, 2001.

History of New Guinea (Papua)

In 1660, the Dutch recognized the sultan of Tidore’s power over New Guinea, and since in practice they had power over the sultan’s territory, they theoretically gained power over the island as well.

In 1793, the British tried to establish a settlement near the city of Manokwari, but failed.

In 1824, Britain and the Netherlands agreed that the western part of New Guinea would formally belong to the Dutch.

In the late 1850s, the first missionaries, Germans, came to the island. They established a settlement on an island outside the city of Manokwari.

For several years the Dutch did little to develop the province, but in 1896 new settlements were built in Manokwari and Fak Fak in response to Australia’s claim to the eastern part of New Guinea.

At the beginning of the 20th century, companies from Japan and the USA established themselves, focusing mainly on mining.

After the Japanese bombing of the US naval base in Pearl Harbor, the Dutch declared war on Japan and thus New Guinea came to play an important role in the Battle of the Pacific. However, some Indonesians welcomed the Japanese as Asia’s liberators from the unpopular Dutch colonial power.

In early 1944, a four-stage reconquest of Japanese-occupied territory in New Guinea under the command of US General MacArthur began. The area used today is Papua New Guinea (PNG).

During the first phase, the city of Holland, now Jayapura, was captured by 80,000 Allied troops, making it the largest military operation in the southwest Pacific.

The entire operation ended with the capture of the Japanese air base on the island of Moratai. Occupied territories in southern Guinea were then captured to prevent Japanese airstrikes on Australia.

In 1945, the Dutch used New Guinea to send people there in exile, and in Tanamerah, the infamous prison for Indonesian nationalists was built.

Due to international pressure, the Dutch were forced to withdraw from the Dutch East Indies, which later became Indonesia, after World War II. However, they retained sovereignty over New Guinea for some time.

To prevent Indonesia’s takeover of New Guinea, the Dutch encouraged Papuan nationalism and began to expand the school system to increase the Papuans’ skills with the goal of introducing autonomy for them in 1970. However, since the end of World War II, Indonesia had claimed all Dutch colonized areas in the former this Dutch East Indies.

In 1962, Indonesian forces infiltrated Papua, but without much success, and the Papuans refused to see the Indonesians as liberators without attacking them, or handing over captured troops to the Dutch. The United States’ pressure on the Netherlands to leave New Guinea quickly surrendered in August 1962.

According to a vaguely worded decree in the UN, Indonesia promised the Papuans at the end of 1969 to decide whether they wanted to be part of Indonesia or become independent. In early 1969, a proposal was presented at the UN that would give the Papuans freedom to choose their path. Indonesia surprisingly refused to accept the proposal and instead advocated that the decision be taken by a group of elders according to musyawarah, an old Papuan traditional decision-making process.

In July 1969, the Indonesian government announced that the local governments of three major cities in New Guinea had unanimously decided that Western Irian, as this part of the island was called at that time, belonged to Indonesia. Thus, West Irian became Indonesia’s 26th province. Papua now consists of 10 districts, each with a provincial capital.

Even before 1969, Indonesia had encountered strong opposition from Papuan nationalists. In 1969, riots broke out on the island of Biak and in Enarotali in the western highlands.

Between 1977 and the mid-1980s, several conflicts flared up between the Papuans and the Indonesian occupying forces, including in the Baliem Valley.

In 1995, sympathizers of the largest freedom movement OPM (Organization Papua Merdeka) stormed the Indonesian consulate in Vanimo in the Australian part of New Guinea. They also took control of Tembagapura and Timika.

In 1996, about 5,000 Papuans revolted for several days and burned down the Pasar Abepura market in one of Jayapura’s suburbs, claiming several lives. During the year, several European and Indonesian researchers were kidnapped in the Baliem Valley. The Europeans were released after four months while the Indonesians were assassinated by OPM.

At the end of 1998, Indonesia reduced its troops on Papua to some extent and also said it was prepared to listen to the Papuans’ demands for greater autonomy.

Papua New Guinea Brief History