How Papua’s Socio-cultural Diversity Impacts its Political Development

Political Development

Many people think that people of Papua and West Papua culturally classified into one collective culture with those in Papua New Guinea, Islands of Solomon, Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia called Melanesia culture is absolutely homogenous. The opinion can be incorrect as the people living there show a great and varied socio-cultural diversity. The diversity is manifested into various cultural aspects that are believed to influence the political systems there.

Below are several cultural aspects that actualize the socio-cultural diversity and how it influences the political development.



Political Development

Based on the language, people in Papua and West Papua is categorized into two groups, Austronesian and Non-Austronesian languages. The languages classified into Austronesian language are called Melanesian languages, while those classified into Non-Austronesian language are called Papuan language. These two languages are the main languages including approximately 240 local languages used in Papua and West Papua as reported by linguists of Summer Institute for Linguistics (SIL) (Silzer 1986).

The native speakers of distinctive local languages included into Austronesian language mostly dwell on the seashore, like Biak, Wandamen, Waropen, and Maya languages. In the other hand, the native speakers of Non-Austronesian languages live in suburban areas and Tengah Mountains, from Kepala Burung in the west to the east most of Papua Island, including Meybrat, Dani, Ekari, Asmat, Muyu and Sentani languages.


Social Structure

Political Development

Through the anthropology studies conducted in Papua, Pouwer (1966) underlines at least four groups based on the adopted kinship terminology.

The first group is Iroquois type of kinship terminology. They classify the members of parallel cousins, brothers, and sisters with the same terminology, but different address for cross-cousins. The people are from Biak, Iha, Waropen, Senggi, Marind-Anim, Humboldt (Yos Sudarso) Bay, and Me. The second group is Hawaiian type that use the same terminology for brothers, sisters, parallel cousins, and cross-cousins. They are people of Mairasi, Mimika, Hattam-Manikion, Asmat, Kimam, and the east of Sarmi Beach. The third group is Omaha type which addresses matrilineal and patrilineal cross-cousins with different terminology. They are from Awyu, Dani, Meybrat, Mek of Bintang Mountains and Muyu. The last group supports Iroquois-Hawaiian type with combined terminology rules. These people live in Bintuni, Tor, and the west of Sarmi Beach (Pouwer 1966).


The Effect of Socio-cultural Diversity to the Political Development

There are four traditional political systems in Papua (Mansoben 1995), including big man political system, kingdom political system, ondoafi political system and mixed political system. The big man political system is achievement-based system that considers individual quality to position an autonomous leader. It does not adopt work organization and job distribution. They include Dani tribe, Asmat tribe, Me tribe, Meybrat tribe and Muyu tribe.

Kingdom political system which is based on ascribed status is all about seniority in the order of birth and clan. The system has adopted function and job distribution to run the authority. These people are in West Papua, including Raja Ampat Islands, Onin Peninsula, MacCluer Bay (Berau Bay) and Kaimana area.

Meanwhile, the ondoafi system is different from the kingdom system due to territorial factors and political orientation. The area or territory of an ondoafi is limited only to one ethnic group, while the territory in kingdom system includes a broader geographical area with varieties of distinctive ethnic groups. Also, the kingdom system is trade-oriented, while the ondoafi system is religion-oriented. The ondoafi political system is found in the north east of Papua and West Papua, including Sentani, Genyem (Nimboran), Humboldt (Yos Sudarso) Bay, Yaona, Tabla, Arso-Waris and Yakari-Skou people.

Mixed political system has a combined system based on both ascription and achievement to position a leader. The achievement-oriented leader is situational. He comes up only in a certain situation, e.g. local war or natural disaster, like famine season, epidemic of a disease or cultural decadency. Meanwhile, the ascription-oriented leader ideally appears in a safe situation which requires the order of birth based on clan position. They are commonly found in Cenderawasih Bay, like the people of Wandamen, Biak, Yawa, Waropen, and Maya.


Different socio-cultural diversity leads to different political development. For instance, the people of Humboldt Bay who adopt the ondoafi political system support Iroquois type. They classify the members of parallel cousins, brothers, and sisters with the same terminology, but different address for cross-cousins. They don’t have work organization and job distribution. It is different from Asmat people that support the big man political system with Hawaiian type of kinship terminology. They classify the same terminology for all brother, sister, parallel cousin and cross-cousin relationships. Unlike the people of Humboldt Bay, they have clear work organization and job distribution.


Thus, the effect of socio-cultural diversity to the political systems in Papua is undeniably interesting to view.