The Early History of West Papua Indigenous Peoples

West Papua indigenous peoples

When talking about ethnic diversity, Indonesia is definitely the center of the conversation. Starting from Sabang to Merauke, there are more than thousands of ethnic groups. Some of them even come from several races. For example, West Papua indigenous peoples are not the same in other regions in Indonesia.

After the transmigration program, many mixed marriages between the indigenous people and the transmigrants happened. However, it did not necessarily eliminate the presence of indigenous people (orang papua asli). So, here is the early history of West Papua indigenous people that you need to know!

The Residency of Melanesians

History of West Papua indigenous people

Basically, Papua Island is the second biggest island in the world. Some people also know it as New Guinea Island. There are two parts: the western side is part of Indonesia, and the eastern side is the State of Papua New Guinea. So, people also call the western side of New Guinea Island West Papua.

In West Papua, there are at least 255 tribes who also speak different languages. However, most come from the same race, that is Melanesia. The word “melanesia” comes from the Greek language. It means “the black island”. It is in harmony with the skin color of members of the race.

The spread of this race is in the eastern part of Indonesia, starting from East Nusa Tenggara to Papua. Then this race also exists in Australia and the Pacific Islands. They have occupied those places for millions of years. So, obviously, the Melanesians are the first ones that inhabit the land of Papua.

Therefore, it can be concluded that the indigenous people of Papua are Melanesian. Most of them inhabit the highlands and the inland. The language that they use belongs to the Trans New Guinea family languages. Some people also know it as the Papuan language.

The Arrival of the Austronesians

However, it turns out that not only Melanesians come and live in Papua. After the Melanesians settled, other races came to the land of Papua. They were called the Austronesians, immigrants that come from Taiwan. They spread to Asia, especially Southeast Asia, some parts of Africa, and Oceania.

In the land of Papua itself, they then settle in the coastal area. This is because they are great rowers. Not much different from the Papuans who settled earlier, they also speak many different languages. However, all of these languages ​​belong to the same language family, Austronesian languages.

Even though Austronesias includes immigrants, it happened hundreds of thousands to millions of years ago. So, they are still included in the category of indigenous peoples. Some of them also cross-married with the Melanesians.

So, for now, three different indigenous people inhabit Papua: Melanesians, Austronesians, and a mixture of these two.

The Presence of Seven Indigenous Territories

indigenous people of Papua

It is already common knowledge that Papua has diversity regarding ethnic groups and languages. However, there are certainly several regions that have similarities with each other.

So, they categorize themselves into seven indigenous territories of Papua, because there are similarities in customs between them.

Those are Mee Pago, Mamta, Anim Ha, Domberai, Saereri, La Pago, and Bomberai. Usually, this division is due to regional proximity. So, in the past, they were the first native tribes to contact each other. Whether it is in a positive or in negative way, there is a cultural exchange in between.

Then, cultural assimilation occurs so that many customs are the same between one tribe and another, such as traditional clothing, houses, and weapons.  However, of course, many cultures and traditions are still unique to a particular tribe.

Either way, West Papua indigenous peoples are diverse. Especially in terms of culture and language.