Ecology-Based Political Development in Papua

Political Development

Nature influences the people’s technology and social organization to adapt with their surrounding environment. It also happens in Papua and West Papua where the livelihood and adaptation characteristics of the people to the ecology area they live are different from one or more ethnic groups to another. The adaptation process to the ecology zones also affects the development of social structure.

Through the sub-discipline called as ecology anthropology, Walker and Mansoben (World Bank Prime Report/UNDP 1987) underlines that the diversity of Papuan people is closely related to the adaptation of socio-economy in the ecology zones (Lavalin International Inc; P.T. Hasfarm Dian Consultant, 1987:88-92; cf. IBIJD 1990:1-16). Here are four main ecology zones in Papua and West Papua with each political development.


Swampy Areas and Coastal and Riverine Areas

Political Development

The people living in one ecology zone might have similar or different living characteristics from another. On the swampy, coastal, and riverine areas of ecology type, the political system is combined system which is oriented on both ascribed status and achievement. The system still doesn’t support bureaucracy, and they have known territorial hierarchy.

Most of the livelihood is cultivation, fishery and trading. People in swampy areas, like Asmat tribe and Mimika tribe, gather sago for main livelihood and go fishing for additional activity. Meanwhile, the people of coastal and riverine areas work in fishery, sago-gathering and cultivation as their main jobs and go hunting as their additional livelihood. They live around Cenderawasih Bay, including Biak, Wandamen, Waropen, Yawa and Maya.

Related to religion and rituals, the people of Papua who fulfill their daily needs from sago-gathering in the swampy and riverine areas generally hold more affordable religious ceremonies than those who eat cassava and live around Tengah Mountains (Van Baal 1954:445). It results to the difference in the rite and religion complexity of Papuan people which can be influenced by each ecology area.


Coastal Lowland Areas


Political Development

Around coastal lowland areas, the people adopt kingdom political system. It is an ascription-oriented system. The political development has known both territorial-based and centralized hierarchies. The system performs an established structure of work organization. The authority and responsibility are strict and centralized.

The people supporting the system live in Raja Ampat Island, Onin Peninsula, Berau Bay and Kaimana area. The people fulfill their daily need by the combination of several jobs, like fishing, sago-gathering and cultivation, as their main livelihood, while they go hunting for additional earnings. In the ecology zone, people live in an individual small family involving four to five members, like in the north coastal lowland areas (Koentjaraningrat 1970).

Mobility also influences the livelihood. For example, people in Biak-Numfor Islands go sailing, trading and stray in the coastal expeditions from the north Papua to the West Indonesia (Maluku and Sulawesi Islands), then move to live in the north coastal areas, Kepala Burung, Raja Ampat and Halmahera Islands because the ecology zone is not potential for their livelihood (De Brujin 1959:9). They trade and go sailing as it is hard to fulfill their need from agriculture. (Feuilletau de Bruyn 1937-39, 1940-41a).


Foothills and Small Valleys

Political Development

On the foothills and small valleys, the traditional political system is ondoafi system. Like those in kingdom system, the people with ondoafi system adopt ascription-oriented system in positioning a chief. The political development has applied clan-based hierarchy. The authority is oriented on religion. There is already organization but with the simplest structure.

These people are commonly found in the tribes of Muyu, Sentani, Genyem (Nimboran), Yos Sudarso Bay, Tabla, Yaona, Yakari-Skao and Arso-Waris. For daily essentials, they do various activities of livelihood. They gather sago, fish, cultivate, go hunting and manage simple animal husbandry for their daily essentials.



Political Development

On the Highlands, big man political system is adopted. The people believe in achievement-oriented system to make a leader, the big man. It is all about one-man show, an autonomous leader. There is no job distribution and bureaucracy, and they support territorial hierarchy.

For the people of Dani and Me who live in the Highlands, agriculture is their main livelihood and pig breeding makes their additional earnings. The others, like Asmat tribe and Meybrat tribe do conventional farming in their daily life. Their plants are cassava and vegetables. They also gather sago and hunt for living. Like those in ondoafi system, they manage simple animal husbandry.

Ecology zone also influences the adaptation characteristics including their technology system, social organization, ideology system and religion. Regarding their social organization, people living around Tengah Mountains build big houses with broad family relationships and networking system from the systems of clans, clan groups and complex federations, like Dani people. Furthermore, as the implication, Van Baal (1954:445) notes that they also have more complex religion ceremonies and rituals.


Those are the main ecology zones that also influence each political development in Papua and West Papua. The zones are also closely related to various socio-economic conditions of society, including their livelihood, social organization and ideology system, social structure, mobility, as well as religion and rituals.