Historical Development of West Papua

The first records of the archipelago date back from the period of Kingdom of Sriwijaya in South Sumatra, which lasted to the 12th century and ruled over many parts of the archipelago. At about the same time, the Kingdom of Majapahit (1292-1521) ruled over East Java. During this period, West Papua was called Djanggi. In all the records dating from this time onwards, Djanggi was unquestionably considered a part of Indonesia, which at that time was named Nusantara. In a monumental book on national history, compiled and published by the statesman Gajah Mada in 1356 and written by the court-writer, Prapanca, we find that Indonesia/Nusantara was divided into western and eastern parts which included the present-day West Papua dan Papua provinces.

Prior to the arrival of the Dutch, the Indonesian islands constituted a field for comptetition between the two rivals – Portugal and Spain. They reached an agreement which partitioned Indonesia into two halves – the western half was to be frequented only by the Portuguese and the eastern half, including West Papua, by the Spanish. Soon after, the name of Nveba Gvince (New Guinea) was invented by a Spanish sailor, while the Portuguese had earlier referred to the big island in the east by the name of Ilha de Papoia.

When the 80 years’ war between Spain and Holland ended in favor of the Dutch, they concluded the Münster Pact (1648) by which the Dutch obtained privileges and gained complete monopoly over all the Indonesian islands. This Pact was reiterated and reinforced by the Utrecht Agreement (1714) and by the Agreement of St. Ildefonso (1797). Henceforth, it was the Dutch who exclusively carried on trade with the Indonesian islands, including West Papua.

The northern part of West Papua at that time was under the Sultanate of Tidore which was extended through Government Acts by the Netherlands in 1814, and to cover finally the whole Western part of the island in 1848, as far as 140 degrees east longitude in the north and 141 degrees east longitude in the south. The Sultanate of Tidore in North Moluccas was used by the Dutch to establish their power in Papua because of the striking similarities in customs between Tidore and several parts of West Papua. This fact was recently confirmed by the Dutch scholar, Vollenhoven.

Afterwards, Dutch policy was aimed at gradually disassociating West Papua from the Sultanate and at bringing the region under their direct control. The first step was taken in 1905 by granting the Sulatn 6000 guilders per annum in exchange for his rights to the southern part of West Papua. The second step was directed towards the remaining part – the north-west of Papua. But in this, the Dutch government met with strong resistance even from among the Dutch themselves. Dr. Hovenkamp, a former commissioner for the residency of Ternate, said: “It is a pure misconception to presume the absence of practical ties between Tidore and the northern and north-western Papua. There have always been close ties, but they have been weakened by our Government, who should have strengthened them for the benefit of the people”.(*)

In the international context as well, West Papua had long been acknowledged as an integral part of Indonesia. During the war between England and Napoleon’s France, the Indonesian islands fell into the hands of the British. At the conclusion of the war, the colonies were returned to the Dutch according to the London Agreement (1814-1824). In the sixth article of that Agreement, special mention was made of the eastern islands, including West Papua. Thus, 141 degrees east longitude was accepted without question in history and in international agreements as the eastern boundary of Indonesia. Another confirmation is to be found in the English Parliamentary Letters of July 1886, the “Correspondence respecting New Guinea” which gave detailed particulars regarding the boundary of the Netherlands New Guinea.

(*)The outbreak of the Second World War brought an end to the dispute. In July 1949, the Dutch made use of an agreement signed in 1909 between some Sultanates in East Indonesia and the Netherlands – Indies Government, in which the Dutch had managed to obtain the right of bringing under their direct control any of the self-governing territories at any time.

Prior to the Second World War, West Papua was included in the Dutch East Indies administration as the Government (province) of Moluccas with the town of Ambon as the seat of the Governor. This Government (province) was sub-divided into two residencies, the residency of Ambon, to which belonged the southern part of West Papua, and the residency of Ternate, to which belonged the northern part of West Papua. As the world knows, the Moluccas, with the town of Ambon and Ternate, are and have always been part of Indonesia. So is the territory of West Papua which was never mentioned apart from the Netherlands East Indies. It was as always has been looked upon as part of the Netherlands East Indies, and thus, also a part of Indonesia.

In sum, the claim that the people of West Papua are different in civilization and culture from Indonesia would not only be a ludicrous distortion of history but also a tendentious half-truth. For, inter-linkages between Indonesia and West Papua can be traced as far back the pre-historic period. During that time, tribes originating from South-East Asia moved in a southern direction in several waves. Part of these migrations went through Indonesia and some reached Papua. Similarities in customs, manners, civilizations, culture and language strongly point to this truism. In modern time, the West Papuan use the national language of Indonesia – Bahasa Indonesia – as their lingua franca with their brethren from other parts of the country. This language is also used by the West Papuan to communicate with people from different linguistic groups within their territory. Regardless of ethnicity, cultural and linguistic differences, people in different parts of the islands call themselves Indonesians. Indonesia is their nationality and they all live in the territory once governed by the Netherlands as a single entity known as the Netherlands East Indies, of which West Papua was an integral part.

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