After the proclamation of Indonesia independence in August 1945, there were long battles and negotiations regarding the status of West Papua. According to the principle uti possidetis juris which ruled the borders of a newly-established nation, West Papua was expected to be a legitimate part of Indonesia. However, at the time, the Dutch refused to give up on West Papua and claimed it as the part of the country’s overseas colonies.
The action taken by the government of Indonesia was expected. The narrative of West Papua as a part of Indonesia was not something new since the region shared the same history with the other areas in the country. There were close historical ties between West Papua and other areas which, post-independence, became Indonesia. These historical ties added one more reason for the government of Indonesia to fight for West Papua.
Among so many relationships between West Papua and the rest of Indonesian regions before the proclamation, there were the ties with Majapahit Empire. Frequently considered as one of the greatest kingdoms in Indonesian history, Majapahit’s influence during its peak of glory extended through Southeast Asia, stretching from Sumatra to New Guinea. It came as no surprise that West Papua, which located in the west of New Guinea, was tied to the empire.
Understanding Majapahit Empire
Majapahit was an empire which was developed in modern-day Java Island, with Trowulan in East Java as the capital. It existed for more than 200 years, from 1293 A.D. to circa 1.500 A.D. It was founded by Raden Wijaya, The Prince of Singasari who fled from the kingdom when it was seized by Jayakatwang.
Majapahit achieved its peak during the administration of King Hayam Wuruk (1350-1389). During his reign, the empire achieved what made it known as one of the greatest kingdoms in early Indonesia. It defeated one of the greatest conquerors in the world’s history, the Mongol, during its expedition to Java. Majapahit then stood as an independent empire which relied on agriculture.
During his administration, Hayam Wuruk was helped by an equally formidable prime minister, Gadjah Mada. When assumed the office, it was said that Gadjah Mada successfully conquered more territories in Southeast Asia. Nagarakertagama (Kertagama Book of State), a eulogy to Hayam Wuruk written by Mpu Prapanca, described the details of the regions under the empire’s influence, confirming Majapahit as the greatest regional power in its time.
Even though whether Majapahit certainly ruled the regions after the conquest or not becomes subject of debate among historians, Majapahit as a significant power in Southeast Asia in the middle of 14th century is a widely accepted historical fact. One of the factors which marked its significance was the military power. The empire became rich from the extensive cultivation and spice trade, therefore: they had enough to fund the military.
The empire also strengthened its power by doing an alliance with the surrounding kingdoms such as China, Champa, Siam, Anam, and Cambodia. With a strong diplomacy in addition to a powerful military force, Majapahit reinforced its significance in Southeast Asia.
Historical Ties with West Papua
The peak of Majapahit was relatively short-lived as the empire declined after the death of Gadjah Mada in 1364 and Hayam Wuruk in 1389. However, the historical ties between the empire and regions in Indonesia were recognized in Indonesian history. West Papua was a part of that history, explaining that the region shared the same historical background even back in the 14th century.
In Negarakertagama, it was mentioned that West Papua was a part of Majapahit. Muhammad Yamin, a national hero of Indonesia, also wrote about how Gadjah Mada had a big impact on uniting Nusantara, a term used to describe Indonesian archipelago.
The map attached to his book, which was entitled Gadjah Mada, Pahlawan Persatuan Nusantara, showed that Nusantara referred to the area between Sabang and Merauke; between Timor and Talaud. The map included West Papua as a region under Majapahit’s administration.
The unity of Nusantara during Majapahit’s peak showed that what happened during the reign of Hayam Wuruk was not actually a conquest. Majapahit’s central government commanded its troops to keep the sovereignty of Nusantara. In exchange for the military force which protected them, the local authorities, including those from West Papua, declared their loyalty to Majapahit.
Even though the details of the relationship between West Papua and Majapahit are less known, the existence of the historical ties signified the long history of West Papua as a part of Nusantara. It is also known that even before Majapahit, West Papua was a part of the previous great kingdom of Indonesia, Sriwijaya.
During Sriwijaya’s era, the central government brought the birds of West Papua as souvenirs to the Emperor of China. The action showed not only that the kingdom tried to keep the diplomacy with the China Empire, but also that West Papua was a part of the kingdom. Throughout the history of Majapahit and Sriwijaya, it is then known that West Papua had historical ties with the kingdoms of early Indonesia.