Papua is Indonesia’s most eastern territory and has an area of 422,000 square kilometers. It is bordered to the east by Papua New Guinea, and the two Papuas together form the largest island in the world.
More than 10,000 years ago, Papua and Papua New Guinea were joined by a land bridge to Australia. This ancient massive continent is known as Gondwanaland.
Due to this historical geography, Papua has many animals and birds similar to those in Australia, including kangaroos, echidnas, cassowaries and cockatoos.
Papua has some of the most dramatic geographical features in the world. These include Indonesia’s tallest mountain, Mount Puncak Jaya, which rises 5,039 metres into the clouds. Puncak Jaya is located in the central Sudirman Mountain Range that forms the “spine” of the island.
The territory is also home to one of just three tropical glaciers in the world. The Papuan glacier is called the Meren and Carstenz glacier. Scientists are concerned that global warming is damaging the rare glacier, of which just 3 square kilometers of ice remain today.
Sloping down from the mountain range are the highlands that in turn give way to the coastal lowlands of Papua. Much of the coastal region is mangrove swamp; the towns and villages there are built on stilts over the swamplands.
The population of Papua is around two million and consists mostly of indigenous Papuans representing many tribes, including the Amungme, Asmat, Biak, Damal, Dani, Ekari, Kamoro, Moni and Nduga tribes. Around 700,000 inhabitants also come from Bali, Java, Maluku, Sulawesi and Sumatra.
There are more than 200 indigenous Papuan languages, but the common language of the territory is Bahasa Indonesia.
The region is resource-rich with minerals such as copper, gold, oil and silver. The area also has many natural resources, including more than 40 million hectares of rainforests and substantial fisheries.
A brief history
Papua was known as Dutch Guinea until 1962, when the Dutch released Papua to the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority. Indonesia then took over the region’s administration.
The island, then called West Irian, became Indonesian territory in 1969 and became an official province in 1973, when it was renamed Irian Jaya. The name is a Biak islander word and is thought to be the earliest name for Papua dating back thousands of years, according to the research of Freerk Kamma, who wrote Kereri: Messianic Movements of the Biak (1954).
Irian Jaya was renamed most recently to Papua on Feb. 6, 2006.
Compiled by Trisha Sertori from various sources