Who Does Live in West Papua? A Closer Look at the Diversity of the “Black Pearl” Land

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There is a common view about populations in Indonesia, that is the Melanesian descendants are on the east, and Austro-Mongoloid descendants are on the west. This view is not completely wrong if only the majority of the people are taken into account. However, just like the western part of Indonesia, the eastern area is not inhibited by a single race or ethnic. The area consists of those with different identities—race, ethnic, language, and culture.

West Papua, which is located in the eastern part of the country, also has its own diversity. Even though the region is more known as the settlements of Melanesian descendants who have darker skin—hence the nickname “Black Pearl”—actually there are other people living in the region. Consequently, West Papua becomes rich in culture and tradition on top of its richness in natural resource and biodiversity.

Who Does Live in West Papua?

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Statistically, West Papua Province has 1,069,498 residents in 2015. They live in a 99,671.63 km² area which comprises 12 regencies and 1 city. The population of Papua as a whole consists of 52% people from native ethnic groups, while the 48% of the population is the combination of a variety of non-Papuan ethnics.

According to a study published in Asia and The Pacific Policy Studies, in 2010, the ‘majority’ of the population in West Papua is Javanese and they are only 14.76% of the population. Other ethnics living in the province are Arfak (9.18%), Biak-Numfor (7.47%), Ayfat (6.06%), and Buginese (5.32%). In total, there are at least 25 ethnics—native and immigrants—staying in West Papua.

West Papua is more heterogeneous, albeit by a little than its neighbor, Papua Province. In the same year, the majority of Papua residents are Dani (23.32%), then followed by Auwye/Mee (11.32%), Javanese (8.38%), Biak-Numfor (5.25%), and more than 20 other ethnics with a percentage lower than 5% each. Nevertheless, it seems to be correct that the “Black Pearl” Land—both Papua and West Papua—is ethnically diverse.

The ethnic diversity in Papua is caused by at least two major factors. Firstly, the land has more than 25 ethnics/tribes which bring the diversity even among the fellow natives. Secondly, Papua has a large inflow of migration and rising ethnic-based movement. The presence of non-Papuan ethnics in Papua, such as Javanese, Buginese, Ambonese, Toraja, and Minahasa, is an evidence of the ethnic-based migration.

According to the same study cited previously, West Papua is ethnically heterogeneous but not highly polarized. It means that ethnic conflicts are less likely happening in West Papua. Even if they do, the scale of the conflicts is expected to be less severe. Instead of causing conflict, the diversity of West Papua shows an amazing beauty of the province.

Language and Culture in West Papua

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The diversity of West Papua is not only about statistics. There are more fascinating facts about the diversity, particularly regarding their language and culture.

In term of local language, Papua shows an incredible diversity. Summer Institute of Linguistics International recorded that Papua had 312 ethnics with their own local languages. Many of the languages are spoken in the West Papua region. Because of the diversity, people may have difficulty to communicate with each other using their local language. Consequently, many West Papuans—particularly those who live in the city—use the Indonesian Language in their daily lives.

In term of culture, Papua is so diverse, which is caused by not only the difference of ethnic but also the regional difference. A culture in one regency may differ quite significantly from another regency. There are several cultural differences which are worth to note, such as the following facts.

West Papua has several traditional houses. There is Papuan traditional house which is influenced by the Thousand Feet House designed by Arfak ethnic group. People can see the example of such house in the Beautiful Indonesia in Miniature Park (the TMII). At the same time, there is a traditional house called Rumsram, originally designed by the Biak-Numfor ethnic in the North Coastline of Papua.

West Papua also has a variety of traditional dances such as the Dance of War, Magasa, Suanggi, and Watukala. These dances have different moves and meaning. For instance, the Dance of War shows the heroic and bravery of Papuans. Magasa Dance, on the other hand, is performed to warmly welcome guests or celebrate any success.

Another fascinating fact which attracts people to come to West Papua is the diversity of their culinary. In Papua, tourists can enjoy a variety of foods such as papeda, sago stuffed pancake, grilled fish, and sago caterpillar satay for those who want to try the more extreme food. With such amazing diversity, with a right tourism management, the province can be developed as a cultural tourist destination on top of its natural one.