The Dynamic of Ethnic Papua Traditions from Time to Time

Ethnic Papua

In this era of modernization and globalization, traditions may change. Some even disappear, going extinct and replaced with the new one. Does this apply to ethnic Papua tradition too? These are the aspects that we can take into account to see whether modernization has changed the traditions in Papua.


Ethnic Papua

Customary ceremonies in Papua are full of music and dancing. It shows that music is the soul of the Papuan people expressed and blended with their customs. The richness of their music intrigues national musicians often to modern music with traditional music, making it even richer in color.

Even though music has developed and is often collaborated with modern music, we still have to preserve music that was born from the culture of the original area. It is the heritage of our ancestors that adds to the richness of Indonesian culture.

One of the Papuan musicians is Markus Rumbino, the only art performer from Biak, Papua. He combines traditional music instruments with electronic music which is packaged in the ensemble performance ‘Run and Nin’ in May 2016. However, more music venues and musicians are still needed to develop music in Papua.


Ethnic Papua

In the past, children had to walk for days to get a decent education at school. After infrastructure development becomes one of the main development priorities, it only takes hours. People also start recognizing the importance of high-level education, and some even take a study abroad as an option.

Papua now has more adequate educational facilities to support teaching and learning activities. Several private and public universities in Papua are Cendrawasih University (Uncen) located in Jayapura, Papua Public University (Unipa) in Manokwari, Yapis Papua University (Uniyap) in Jayapura, and many more. Therefore, indigenous people of ethnic Papua don’t need to go abroad or go overseas to get the best education.


Ethnic Papua

In the past, indigenous Papuans are not familiar with the religion. They used to hold traditional beliefs which are characterized by animism and dynamism and the principle of reciprocity—an eye for an eye.  Now, although their traditional beliefs still influence them, Catholic becomes the most widely practiced religion in Papua.


Ethnic Papua

Most young people in Papua no longer recognize the “land language” or “mother tongue” and the used of Bahasa Indonesia increasingly becomes more common. This is the impact on the easier access to primary and junior secondary education and the large number of immigrants coming from outside Papua and bringing another culture.

Several regional languages in Papua are reportedly endangered, close to extinction. One of which is Marori. Marori is a small tribe and the native language within the large Marind Anim (= Marind people) inhabiting Wasur Village, Merauke Regency, Papua. Nowadays, there are only 20 active speakers of Marori left; most of them are elders. To preserve the mother language is to document the language and local knowledge for the next generation.

Traditional arts, butt-rocking dances, using tifa as a musical instrument, and the cultural institutions of the local community are gradually being marginalized and replaced with the lifestyle they are exposed to from the television.


Ethnic Papua

In the past, people had a very strong sense of kinship and tolerance between tribes and ethnic groups that differences in perception were not a problem. Now, there is a new stratification pattern that is more material-based, not traditional. The pattern of social relations is becoming more contractual, commercial, and transactional.


Ethnic Papua

Agriculture, forestry, and pig farming that used to be the main livelihood for people of Papua are now obsolete. However, women are still raising pigs and opening plantations, but it is far lower than in the 1970s. Now, products like rice, chili (rica), and even pig that used to be the main commodities in Wamena are imported from outside the Baliem valley because of the declining interest in plantation and agriculture.

With higher education is made more available for young Papuans, agriculture is not considered as a promising career anymore. Therefore, Papuans become increasingly dependent on importing commodities or cash transfers because internal production is decreasing and could not fulfil their needs.


Ethnic Papua

The tribes in Pegunungan Tengah who use simple clothing such as koteka (for male), namely the Dani, Yali, Lani, Amungme, Moni and Mek, have now decreased in population. Now, only elders or those who live in areas far from the city are still wearing koteka daily.

The declining interest in wearing koteka is caused by several factors, from modernization to shame. Whereas in fact, koteka is traditional clothing that must be preserved as proof of one’s identity. It is an inseparable part of history from the local Papuan community. Now, koteka is more often sold as souvenirs for tourists.

The Papuans tend to wear clothes that imitate Western clothing styles. For example, teenagers are now following the style of people in Papua New Guinea. This style is growing especially in border areas.

Awareness of natural conservation

In the past, fishermen used to utilize poison and fish bombs to get as many sea products fast. Moreover, entrepreneurs are starting to control the sea to meet market needs.

However, the use of hazardous materials threatens the sustainability of marine life. To preserve marine life and keep marine resources remain sustainable for future generations, people are given knowledge on nature conservation and start enforcing sasi (a ban from exploiting natural resources from a certain area) on the sea. It is called as sasi laut.

Those are the elements which change in ethnic Papua traditions—both for the better or the worse—due to modernization. Some are changing, and some are going extinct. To preserve the traditions, we can document them to pass them down to future generations.