Behind Indonesia and West Papua National Awakening

Indonesia and West Papua Nationalism Awakening

Since the inaugural raising of the Morning Star flag in 1961, Papuan nationalism has grown stronger. Any understanding of the interactions between the Indonesian government and Papuan society must consider its development as a political force. See below for further information on the national awakenings in Indonesia and West Papua.

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The Severe Past of Indonesia and West Papua

Before Japan invaded the Dutch East Indies in 1941, the Dutch made an aggressive military push to reintegrate Indonesia into their borders. Indonesia was able to secure complete acknowledgment of its sovereignty following four years of brutal conflict. West Papua was still part of the Netherlands, and the country still desired its independence from Indonesia.

Indonesia and West Papua saw a newfound optimism for freedom after the Suharto dictatorship fell in 1998. Especially under the Abdurrahman Wahid government, this gave West Papuans a more expansive room for democratic rights, ambitions, and respect. 

The Construction of Papuan Nationalism

Since the inaugural raising of the Morning Star flag in 1961, Papuan nationalism has grown stronger. Papuan nationalism, which emerged in the latter part of the 20th century, and its growth as a political force are critical considerations in understanding the political and cultural transformation in Papua and the future course of relations between Indonesia and West Papua society government. 

It will demonstrate how responses to four fundamental causes have shaped Papuan nationalism as it exists now. The first historical grievance they share is the incorporation of their country into Indonesia, which many Papuans believe happened against their expressed wishes and without their involvement. Second, historical changes in the governance of Papua have bred conflict and competitiveness. The odd “dual colonialism” of Netherlands New Guinea, in which most administrative positions were filled before 1942 by officials from future Indonesia, was followed, from 1944 to 1962, by support for Papuans’ political and academic growth.

An Evolving Nationalist

Its authors’ pragmatic and sometimes conflicting intentions have significantly impacted the growing nationalist historiography of Papua, reflecting their experience. “Anyone with the least grasp of how cultures operate knows that defining a culture, declaring what it is for members of that culture, is always a big and, even in undemocratic countries, a democratic contest,” said Edward Said about the process of defining culture. 

History reflected the decisions Papuans had to make about the conflicting Indonesian, Dutch, and Papuan future views. As a result, this essay uses Papuan sources whenever feasible to reflect Papuan identity and articulate Papuan national goals.

As Indonesia and West Papuan nationalism has developed, a unique ethnic expression has emerged. Many Papuan nationalists today draw clear cultural and racial distinctions between Papuans and other peoples, particularly Indonesians, reflecting the complicated and nuanced ties they have had throughout history.

The Papuan Political Struggle and National Ambitions Have Continued to Center on Jakarta’s Administration

Papua’s nationalism movement, like many others, has goals beyond only achieving political autonomy. Some have argued that the slogan of the nationalist movement, Merdeka, alludes to freedom rather than only political independence, with sovereignty being more broadly understood as freedom from the oppression of human rights, political persecution, ignorance, and poverty. For instance, according to Brigham Golden, the importance of Merdeka (also known as “independence” or “freedom”) for Indonesia and West Papua surpasses nationalist ideals. Golden compares Merdeka to a “liberation theology,” a moral fight for world peace and social fairness. The many interpretations of Merdeka make it unclear if the freedoms that Papuans desired could be possible under the Indonesian state. 

The difficulties were created by Papuans’ growing connection with the outside world rather than just the nature of Indonesian sovereignty. They represent many of Papuans’ disenfranchisements and impotence and serve as the foundation for their desire for Merdeka. However, Jakarta’s rule has continued to be the focal point of Papua New Guinea’s political struggle and national ambitions. Since the early 1960s, the unequal relationships between Papuans and Indonesians have dominated the political discourse in that country. Due to this, Papuan nationalism tends to reduce the many goals of Merdeka to the specific desire for political independence.


In West Papua (Irian Jaya, Indonesia), a nationalist movement has lately gained ground again. The history of West Papua’s transition from Dutch to Indonesian sovereignty in the 1960s and other global political events that impacted Indonesia and West Papua are the sources of this movement and the identity of West Papuans. During the forty years of Indonesian rule, an elite political identity developed during this time spread to most of the population. It then appeared in cultural forms influenced by a new cultural Melanesianism that sought to embrace local identities and give them a more expansive expression as parts of national identity.