Indonesian Province of Papua



The national census of 2000 recorded the population of Papua at 2,110,708. This includes members of isolated or nomadic tribes, which numbers around 19,000 people. With an area of 421,981 square kilometers, the population density of Papua is 5 peopIe per square kilometer, making Papua the least populated province, of Indonesia.

By livelihood, the traditional Papuans are divided into three categories. The first are those who process sago trees for their staple food. They also fish in downstream rivers and beaches and on a limited scale also cultivate the lands. The processing of a sago tree involves a simple and speedy method before further processed into cakes or porridge. The second are nomads who live in the upstream of rivers where they process sago tree and hunt boars and other non-herded animals. These people do not cultivate the land, but occasionally fish in the rivers. The third are people who live in big valleys in the central mountain ranges. They do not process sago trees, but cultivate the land with yams, canes and other kinds plants. They live in small villages, which usually comprises one extended family. These people of the central mountain ranges and the Jayawijaya Highlands are famous for wearing penis gourds as their form of daily clothing.

The Province of Papua accommodates the most tribes and languages than all the other Indonesian provinces. Due to the many tribes and languages, Papuan culture is best described as diverse. The varying, cultures, from communities living in the coastal areas to those living in the high mountainous areas create the. mosaic of the cultures of Papua. The cultures of communities and tribes in the coastal areas have however been greatly influenced by incoming foreign cultures by way of interaction through trade and missionaries. On the other hand, the communities of Papua living in the hinterland and mountain areas are often inaccessible, thus many still practice their traditional

Cultures and Traditions.

Although the Papuans belong to the Melanesian race, they are distinguished into about 250 sub-groups or tribes on the basis of physical features, diiferences in languages, customs, artistic expressions and other cultural aspects. Every tribe has its own stratification system within its own community. The best-known tribes in Papua are the Asmat of the South Coast and the Dani of the Baliem Valley. The Asmats are famous for their distinct and unique arts, while the Danis are renowned for being the largest tribe with of distinct rituals and traditions.


The languages of Papua are classified into two main groupings, Melanesian and non-Melanesian. The non-Melanesian languages are native of Papua and are linguistically unrelated to any other languages outside Papua, except to those in the immediate surrounding islands. Out of the more than 234 languages in Papua only 43 are Melanesians and they mostly exist in coastal areas, with only a few in the hinterland. The non-Melanesian languages which are often referred to as the Papuan Languages, on the other hand, exist both in coastal areas and hinterland. It was always believed that tribes speaking non-Melanesian languages are the original population of Papua. With several arrivals of people speaking Melanesian languages that settled in coastal areas, the non-Melanesian-speaking tribes were slowly driven into the hinterland.

Languages that belong to Melanesian grouping among others are the languages of Irarutu (with approximately 6,000 speakers), Sobei (1,400 speakers), Ambai (10,000 speakers), Waropen (6,000 speakers), Koiwai (600 speakers), Biak (40,000 speakers), and Wandamen (4,000 speakers). On the other hand, non­Melanesian languages include the language of the Dani tribe with the most speakers (184,000) and Usku language, which has the least speakers (20). The languages of the Asmat tribe (35,000 speakers), Wodani tribe (3,000 speakers) Moni tribe (12,000 speakers), Sentani tribe (6,000 speakers), and Nimboran (3,000 speakers).

Linguistic research by SIL International indicated that there are 265 languages in Papua. Of those, 263 are living languages and 2 are second languages without mother tongue speakers. So numerous are the languages in Papua that there are active languages spoken only by hundreds of speakers or indeed by 50 or less speakers, such as the Marengi language that is spoken by 47 speakers, Massep by 40 and Morori by 50. Of all the living languages there are also 10 nearly extinct languages. One such language, Kwerisa, is spoken by only 55 speakers, while the rest of the nearly extinct languages are each spoken by less than 30 speakers; Tandia being spoken by two speakers and Mapia by one.

Numerous experts and researchers attempted to classify the local languages in Papua. Most of them based their classification on a geographical basis and not on linguistic principle!). One such category classifies the languages of Papua into 31 types, and into 10 geographical areas. For example, there are 22 languages in Fak-Fak regency, 9 of them belong to the Austronesia­Melanesian family and the rest belong to the Trans Irian family.

Regardless of the myriad of local languages in Papua, the Papuans generally speak Bahasa Indonesia (the indonesian Language), which is the lingua franca of Indonesia. Bahasa Indonesia is taught and spoken in schools and also in government offices.


The first endeavor to disseminate Christianity by the Dutch dates back to 1855 and instituted in 1872 by the establishment of a base for their activities in Manokwari, in the Bird’s Head area of Papua. This endeavor did not really take off until the early 20th century and mostly concentrated on the northern coast and northern islands 01 Papua. After World War II, the number of native priests increased and the Christian Church of Papua was established in 1956.

Unlike in the north, the propagation of religion in the southern part of Papua was dominated by the Catholics, whose missionaries began their activities in 1894. However, despite all attempts, for weil into the next century no significant results were achieved. Attempts to spread Roman Catholicism were intensified – particularly to the tribes in the upstream of Digul River, the southern islands and other areas in the south – when in 1930 the Christian Church of Maluku established a Christian mission center in Merauke. The first Catholic schools were built around Merauke and the upstream of the Digul River in 1923 and in ten years the number 01 Catholic schools in southern Papua numbered 107.

In many areas, particularly in the hinterland, animism and traditional beliefs are still practiced and thrives in the form of rituals to mark and celebrate each of life’s milestones. These rituals continue to be practiced today in line with Christian and Catholic teachings.

Religious followers in Papua continue to increase every year. Today, followers of Christianity number 1,100,000 people, Catholicism 450,000 people, and Islam 450,000, whilst Hinduism and Buddhism reach only 5,000 and 3,000 followers respectively.


In Papua the number of basic education institutions number 2,300 for elementary schools and 329 for lower secondary schools. Higher secondary schools and vocational schools number 110 and 2B respectively. Papua has one state institute for higher learning, the Cencrawasih University in Jayapura, and 13 private universities, which altogether currently educate more than 11,500 students. Graduates from all universities in 1998 numbered 3,812.

Compared to other areas of Indonesia, the development of education in Papua needs to be further developed. Of all the population in the province, 49.67 percent have not received formal education or have not graduated from elementary school. Only 21.64 percent are elementary school educated, 10.06 percent highar secondary school educated, and a mere 1.91 percent are university graduates.


Health services in Papua can be described as comparable to health services in most of Indonesia’s other provinces. As an illustration, the number of hospitals in 1997 totaled 22 with a capacity of 1,793 beds. A total of 183 Community Health Centers and 752 Supporting Community Health Centers scattered in districts catered for health services all over Papua, while private health centers numbered 126. In the same year, 323 medical doctors were in service. People requiring medical services numbered 577,929 in 1997, which was a decrease of 36.7 percent from the previous year.

 Local Government

The Province of Papua is headed by a governor. It consists of one municipality, Jayapura, and twelve regencies, Jayapura, Biak-Numfor, Yapen Waropen, Manokwari, Sarong, Fak-Fak, Merauke, Nabire, Jayawijaya, Puncak Jaya, Paniai, and Mimika. Jayapura is also where the provincial government sits. The Province is further divided.into 173 districts and 2,260 villages.

Since 1963 the Governors of the Province of Papua have been Elias Jan Bonay (1963-1964), Frans Kaisiepo (1964-1973), Acub Zainal (1973-1975), Soetran (1975-1981), Busiri Suryowinoto (1981-1982), Izaac Hindom (1982-1987 and 1987-1988), Barnabas Suebu (1988-1993), Jacob Pattipi (1993-1998), and Freddy Numbery (1998-2000). The current governor is J.P. Solossa who began his tenure in 2001 and will end in 2006.


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