A Historical View of West Papua in the Ancient Kingdoms Period

Majapahit empire - i1.wp.com
Majapahit empire - i1.wp.com

West Papua nowadays is known as one of the provinces in Indonesia, hence the part of the Indonesia Republic. However, not many people realize that this eastern region has become a part of Nusantara for centuries in some of the most prominent and powerful kingdoms which ruled Indonesia in the past: the Srivijaya Kingdom, the Majapahit Empire, and the Sultanate of Ternate and Tidore.

The role of West Papua region in the era of Srivijaya Kingdom

Sriwijaya kingdom - i0.wp.com
Sriwijaya kingdom – i0.wp.com

The Srivijaya Kingdom, existed in 650-1377, was the maritime empire which based its administrative rule in the Island of Sumatra. In the peak of its glory, the kingdom successfully expanded its territories by a number of expedition and conquest missions to other islands in Indonesia as well as several parts of Malay Peninsula and Chaiya District in Thailand.

In the archipelago of Indonesia, the Srivijaya Kingdom supported and governed several states from the western to the eastern part of the country, especially those who are located outside the Island of Sumatra. The Srivijaya’s dependencies include present Malang and Surabaya area in Java Island, Tanjungpura, and Banggai in Sulawesi Island, as well as West Papua, Southwest Papua, and Sorong in the eastern region.

At the time when the Srivijaya Kingdom ruled, Papua was called Tung-ki or Jenggi in Chinese, and in the future’s rule, the name was changed to “Samudranta” from the Sanskrit language. The later name was based on the voyage journey of Indian sailors which reached the point of eastern islands.

Other than its rule in the Indonesian archipelago and the Malay Peninsula, the Srivijaya Kingdom was more closely related to some dynasties of China. Besides being the kingdom where Buddhism was spread largely, the relation between Srivijaya Kingdom and Chinese Dynasties was supported by economic policies and trade agreements. Srivijaya professed a particular interest in making China its trading partner.

With the aim of maintaining a good connection with Chinese Dynasties, or Tang and Song Dynasty in particular, Srivijaya presented the Chinese leaders with its valuable commodities. One of them is Cenderawasih, the bird of paradise from Papua.

West Papua during the reign of the Majapahit Empire

Majapahit empire - i1.wp.com
Majapahit empire – i1.wp.com

The Majapahit Empire was the largest and greatest kingdom that ever ruled the archipelago of Indonesia and some parts of Southeast Asia which are called by the term “Nusantara” in the past. It existed from 1293 and expanded its territories until the 16th century. The empire’s glory reached the highest point during the reign of Hayam Wuruk in the 14th century, or to be exact, from 1350-1389.

In addition to Hayam Wuruk, the prime minister, Mahapatih Gajah Mada was credited with making the kingdom reached its ultimate glory. Inaugurated in the early of 14th century, Gajah Mada declared his famous oath, namely the Palapa Oath, in which he swore to bring together all the parts of Nusantara under the rule of the Majapahit Empire.

The oath taken by Gajah Mada was proven when he successfully unified several states and islands in Indonesia, including Sumatra, Sulawesi, Maluku, Nusa Tenggara, and Wanin or New Guinea area, which later known and changed its name to Papua. It is properly mentioned by Mpu Prapanca in his greatest eulogy, Negarakertagama, that Wanin, specifically Onin Peninsula, was one of the parts in Nusantara and belonged to the territories ruled by the Majapahit Empire.

The area of Onin Peninsula is currently located in Fakfak Regency, West Papua. Since it has been included in the territories of Nusantara for centuries, it is undeniable that Papua becomes the part of Indonesian Republic until the present time.

The claim of Papua by the Sultanate of Ternate and Tidore

Sultanate of Ternate - 3.bp.blogspot.com
Sultanate of Ternate – 3.bp.blogspot.com

Ternate was actually the capital region of the Gapi Kingdom, before the kingdom changed its name into the Sultanate of Ternate. Along with its neighboring region, Tidore, the sultanate developed into one of the wealthiest regions in the Indonesian archipelago. Unlike two other kingdoms mentioned earlier which belong to Buddha and Hindu kingdoms respectively, The Sultanate of Ternate and Tidore was based on the Islamic belief.

In the early 16th century, following the European colonization in the eastern part of Indonesia, several regions formerly ruled by the Mollucas Empire was claimed by the Sultanate of Ternate and Tidore. Ambon, Sulawesi, and Papua were some of the eastern regions which belonged to the sultanate’s dependencies at the beginning of colonization era. Those regions are believed to offer profitable commodities, such as cloves and other kinds of spices, which were sold in higher value amongst the kingdoms’ trading system.

The Sultanate of Ternate and Tidore continued to claim most of the eastern parts in the Indonesian region, including Papua and West Papua, until the end of the 16th century. In the present time, Ternate ethnic group has become a remaining small part of a diverse ethnic group living in the West Papua.


Looking at the history of West Papua throughout the ancient kingdoms period establishes the fact that this eastern region of Indonesia has been a part of Nusantara since a long time ago, even before the Europe colonists and explorers arrived at the border of the archipelago. Moreover, it will continually be a part of the Indonesian Republic.