New Guinea is the second largest island in the world composed of many nations. The first settlers in the territory were Melanesians, Papuans, and the Negrito tribe. The eastern part of the territory was explored by the Spaniards and the Portuguese while the western part was conquered by the Dutch in 1928. The eastern part became the subject of several conquests until it reached its full independence in 1975 from Great Britain. The name Papua New Guinea was adopted as the official name of the eastern territory. West Papua, the other half, was conquered by the Dutch and became known as the Netherlands New Guinea (Infoplease, n.d. ).
In 1945, the rule of the Dutch faced turmoil as the Indonesian government lay claim on the area. The Indonesian government stressed that a great part of New Guinea is geographically a part of their territory. The Indonesian government asserted its claim by imposing military and political attacks on the region (Forbes, 2008). In 1962, the territory was liberated from the rule of the Dutch. However, such liberty was short lived as the Indonesian government exerted efforts to stress their leadership over the region.
In order to legally conquer the territory, the Indonesian government sought help from the United Nations (UN). The special UN Commission headed by a ranking member of the United States administration urged West Papua’s turnover to Indonesia. According to Nietschmann (1988), the act was a political move for the United States. It was strategically made to strengthen their power and control in Asian countries. Through the Act of Free Choice in 1969, the territory of West Papua was declared a province of the Republic of Indonesia.
However, what is legally recognized as a “free choice” of the people of West Papua does not seem to reflect the real sentiments of the people. Ironically, such free choice is actually an imposed choice, as subsequent events would reveal. Since the signing of the Act of Free Choice, the Indonesians have shown conquest of the territory of the Papuans. The name of the territory was changed from West Papua to Irian then to Irian Jaya. Aside from changing the name of the territory, the population also ballooned as people from Indonesia were relocated in the area. This act is what is considered as transmigration.
Indonesians were moved to West Papua under the guise of easing the overpopulation in their country (Nietschmann, 1988). The transmigration had adverse effects to the Papuans because their properties were expropriated without them receiving any compensation for it. In addition, the Indonesians, being better educated than the locals, enjoyed a higher employment rate than the latter. The transmigration also strategically displaced the Papuans in their own territory, the non-Papuans constituting 15 percent of the total population and still increasing (Wilson, 2001).
The high number of Indonesian settlers in the area paved the way for greater exploitation of the territory’s natural resources such as petroleum, gold, copper, and silver. Most of the benefits that are being generated from these resources are enjoyed by the Indonesian mainland and not by the Papuan region. No significant development is evident in Irian Jaya (Converge, n. d. ). Due to the illegal expropriation and exploitation of job opportunities and natural resources, the Papuans have expressed strong resistance against the conquest of the Indonesians. Mining has been one of the major causes of disputes between the parties.
The Papuans despise the mining activities of the Indonesians in their territory due to the serious danger that it is causing to their natural resources. Their minerals are being exploited for the commercial interests of their conquerors without exerting any effort to address the environmental side effects of these exploitations (Wilson, 2001). The Papuans also fear that if they do not assert their rights now, they might lose whatever right they have in their own territory and culture. The Indonesian invasion of West Papua has caused serious threat to the preservation of the culture, language, beliefs, and practices of the Papuans.
The Papuans have a very different culture from the Indonesians, and if the constituents of the latter continue to balloon in West Papua, it is likely that the Papuan culture will soon be lost in oblivion (Converge, n. d. ). The Papuans aver that Indonesian claim of their territory has no legal basis. They would prefer being merged with Papua New Guinea or having their own autonomous state rather than being merged with the Indonesians. However, the Indonesian government has failed to heed to the wishes of the locals; it even asserted stronger force in the area.
According to Nietschmann (1988), the claim of Indonesia is bogus. If the area is geographically examined, 2300 miles of ocean water and island nations separate the two territories. There is no direct connection between the two regions. Hence, this makes their claim superfluous. West Papua has been wrapped with wrath, uprising, and tension, with the Papuans falling on the losing side. The conflict has resulted in ruthless deaths and human rights violation. Many of the locals are detained in prison cells without trial, and many have died fighting for independence.
However, despite these sacrifices, the Indonesians remain to be the controlling power in Irian Jaya. Many of the Papuans have crossed the borders and sought refuge to Papua New Guinea, but the latter cannot welcome the refugees with open arms for fear of military attacks from Indonesia (Converge, n. d. ). It was only in 2001, that the rights of the Papuans were given due course. The Indonesian government apologized to the people of West Papua for the injustices that were inflicted by their people and promised for the recognition of the distinct identity of the Papuans.
This apology is seen by some authors to be an indicator of West Papua’s release from internal colonialism. Internal colonialism is a term used to describe the proliferation of the unequal exchange between the masses and the elite or the core and the periphery within a certain territory or a nation state (Smith & Ng, 2002). It arises in cases where the resources of a certain ethnic or cultural group are being exploited by a larger cultural group which is claiming ownership over the resources of the indigenous group. It is a combination of several factors such as political, cultural, economic and environmental difference.
The Indonesian rule in West Papua exhibits this situation. As part of the Indonesian populace, the Papuans are being exploited culturally, economically, and environmentally as the Indonesian government claim. Their identity as a nation and as a people is diminishing due to the Indonesian settlement in their land. This is the reason why the Papuans are seeking to break free from their colonizers. They want to preserve their culture and their identity. In their quest for preserving this identity, they have resorted to bloodshed and political settlements.
However, it was only after the change in the Indonesian leadership that their claims started to be heard and given due course (Smith & Ng, 2002). The quest for independence in Papua is not ignited by Indonesia’s claim of the territory. Rather, it was triggered by the act of stripping off the Papuans of what they have left. Analyzing the effects of the Indonesian and Dutch conquest of the territory, one may observe that the former is more adverse than the latter. The Indonesian invasion is so vast that it almost left nothing for the Papuans.
They did not simply take the territory as the Dutch did. The Indonesians almost erased the culture that existed in the region. It is like erasing an entire nation and all the marks that would reveal its true identity. Colonization may either work for the better or for the worse. It may yield to positive results if the conquering country infuses new ideas and technology to their conquered land for economic progress. However, it may work negatively if the only agenda of the colonizer is to exploit. Sadly, this seems to be the ulterior motive of colonization nowadays.
If this trend goes on, it is likely that existing indigenous cultures will vanish like soot. References Forbes, D. K. (2008). Papua. Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved 13 October 2008 from http://encarta. msn. com/text_761568991___0/Papua. html. Nietschmann, B. (1988). Third World colonial expansion: Indonesia, disguised invasion of indigenous nations. J. H. Bodley (ed. ), Tribal Peoples and Development Issues. Mountain View, California: Mayfield 191-207. Papua New Guinea. (n. d. ). Infoplease. Retrieved 13 October 2008 from, http://www. infoplease.
com/ipa/A0107875. html+west+papua+and+papua+new+guinea+history&hl=tl&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=ph&client=firefox-a Smith, A. & Ng, A. (2002). Papua: Moving beyond internal colonialism?. New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies. 4(2) 90-114. West Papua Niugini: A Statement. (n. d. ). Converge. Retrieved 13 October 2008 from, http://www. converge. org. nz/wpapua/history. html Wilson, C. (2001, August 7). Internal conflict in Indonesia: Causes, symptoms and sustainable resolution. Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 13 October 2008 from http://www. aph. gov. au/library/pubs/rp/2001-02/02RP01. pdf