Basic Information about Papua

Source: World Team Papua

Location

Papua is the eastern-most part of Indonesia, comprising the left half of the island of New Guinea.

Map of PapuaDo not confuse it with Papua New Guinea, which instead is the right half of the island of New Guinea and is a different country!

There are many more maps of Papua and Indonesia showing location and other physical details on the Maps page.

Largest city

Jayapura (located in the north-east corner), with a population of at least 200,000.

Size

Papua’s land area is approximately 420,000 km2. It comprises 21% of the total land area of Indonesia, but is home to only 1% of its population. The whole island of New Guinea is the second largest island on earth, after Greenland.

Population

Approx 2.6 million (roughly 50% indigenous, 50% migrants from other parts of Indonesia).

Languages

Language map of PapuaThe national language is Bahasa Indonesia. However there are 264 tribal languages. The inhospitable, rugged terrain isolates tribal communities and creates a great linguistic diversity.  Remarkably, the island of New Guinea as a whole contains about one quarter of the world’s languages.

You can click the map on the right to see where all these languages are found throughout Papua.  Other language maps can be found on our main Maps page, including an unusual map of the world redrawn to a different scale where the size of a country depends not on its physical area but on the number of different languages spoken in it.

Naming & History

Historical map of PapuaPapua has an interesting history.  When the early explorer Jan Carstensz sailed past the southern coast of New Guinea in 1623, and caught glimpses of snow-capped peaks near the equator, his reports were generally disbelieved upon his return.  The island had at that time been named by the Spanish as Nueva Guinea.  By 1824, Holland had laid claim to the western half of the island, naming it Netherlands New Guinea as part of their colony of the Dutch East Indies – the famous Spice Islands.  A number of early era maps of New Guinea are on the Maps page.

During World War II, the Japanese occupied much of the northern coast of Netherlands New Guinea.  They were then driven out by General MacArthur’s New Guinea campaign, beginning with a famous amphibious invasion of Hollandia in 1944.

After World War II, when the country of Indonesia was formed in August 1945, Netherlands New Guinea remained under Dutch control.   It had a brief period under UN control in 1962, then annexed as a province  of Indonesia in 1963, and renamed West Irian.  In 1973 its name was changed again to Irian Jaya.  In 2002 the province achieved special autonomy status and was allowed to change its name to Papua.  Since that time there have been government efforts to split the province into smaller segments, one such split actually happening in 2003, when the western peninsula became its own province named West Irian Jaya.  In 2007 that smaller province changed its name to West Papua.

Map of the Australiasia regionWith such a varied history, it can be confusing to know what name to use to describe this region of the world!  Many people remember the name Irian Jaya which was in use for many years.  Although technically now split into two provinces, most people currently use the name “Papua” to refer to all the western Indonesian half of the island.  When this web site uses the name Papua, it is referring to all of the western Indonesian half of the island of New Guinea.

Major products/industries

Mining (50+% of income), oil, gas, wood and other natural resources.

Geography

Snow on Puncak Jaya peakThe centre of the province is dominated by a large jungle-covered mountain chain, approximately 600km long by 100 km across, which has some of the most rugged terrain on earth. The highest peak in the chain is Puncak Jaya, 4884m high, which is permanently covered in snow and even has a small glacier, despite being only 2 degrees south of the equator. It is counted by some as one of the world’s Seven Summits. About half of the land in the province is hilly or mountainous.

On each side of the mountain chain are extensive lowlands, particularly in the south, with hundreds of kilometers of swampy land. The climate there is hot and humid.

Other notable features include the largest river, the Mamberamo, which flows north from the mountains to the ocean; the Baliem grand valley, a wide valley located 1600m above sea level in the middle of the mountain range; and Lake Sentani, a large fresh water lake despite being very close to the ocean, located near the main city of Jayapura.

Ecology

Bird of ParadisePapua is almost entirely covered in tropical forest, and has among the richest biodiversity on earth. Its ecology is estimated to contain approximately 16,000+ species of plants, 80,000+ species of insects, 2700+ species of orchid, and 600+ species of birds, to name a few.

However these are only estimations, since much of Papua remains to be explored, much of its ecology is yet to be discovered by science.  In 2005, a National Geographic expedition to the remote Foja Mountain region discovered over 40 new species in less than one month, and received a lot of press attention, calling it the “Lost World” expedition.

For more information about Papua, check out our World Team Papua brochure (350Kb PDF format) or browse a collection of internet sources on our Links page.

Note: Statistical data about Papua is often variable and conflicting between different sources, including encyclopedias and internet web sites. The summary above has been merged from multiple sources for improved accuracy, but many figures should still be considered more as approximations.

Maps!

If you enjoy looking at maps of all kinds, check out this Maps page which has a wide variety of maps and charts about Papua and Indonesia, some in very high resolution.  Below are thumbnails which give you an idea of the colourful collection we’ve put together…

A collage of maps of Papua

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