Is West Papua a country? The short answer to this is that no, West Papua is not a country, but an integral part of Indonesia.
Of course the long answer is somewhat more nuanced, as well as being filled with intrigue, misery and a lot of sadness.
What’s the story with West Papua?
West Papua (Indonesian: Papua Barat), formerly Irian Jaya Barat (West Irian), is a very large province in Indonesia. IN colonial times it flip-flopped between European powers before becoming part of the Dutch-East-Indies
During the 1920’s “Indonesia” started to want independence, something which would continue until the end of World War 2. The only problem was that not everyone in Indonesia though of themselves as Indonesian, and this included the people of West Papua.
Sadly Cold War politics were to come into play and thus the multi-ethnic peoples of West Papua would end up as part of the Republic of Indonesia.
Difference between West Papua and East Papua?
What is the difference between West Papua and East Papua? West Papua is part of Indonesia and East Pa[ua makes up the bulk of Papua New Guinea, quite simply.
To read about our tours to Papua New Guinea click here.
Ethnically though they are relatively similar both being made up of Austronesian peoples with more in common with Aborigines than Muslim Indonesians.
The West Papua Independence Movement
Organisasi Papua Merdeka, OPM was established in 1965 and since then has fought an often bloody civil war for independence for West Papua, with their Morning Star flag being banned in the territory.
Why though have they failed both internationally and locally to achieve independence? This in comparison to say East Timor? This was a point I put to a member of FRETLIMO, the former freedom fighters of Timor-Leste, who told me this;
“We tried to help them, but while we are a single ethnic group they are not. This has made their independence struggle harder to achieve as they lack the same ease in fighting as a singular cause”.
And as to support now, another government figure from Timor-Leste had this to say “We morally support them, but our ties with Indonesia are too important”.
To read my interview with the Timorese president click here.
They struggle though as internationally whilst many pressure groups exist, most governments remain quiet, instead currying the favour of Indonesia.
Why has the West Papua Independence Movement Failed?
For West Papua to be a country surely it just needs to follow the Timor precedent right? sadly not so much so, with Timor-Leste likely to be an isolated case. As to why West Papua is not a country, a Timorese friend put it to me like this “They are not an ethnically homogeneous group, so lacked the unity that we had when fighting for the independence of Timor-Leste.
And much like in other countries sadly without western support it us unlikely to have any chance of succeeding.
What is the Difference between West Papua and East Papua?
Quite simply West Papua is a part of Indonesia, so is West Papua a country? No it is a province. East Papua though is also not a country, but a constituent part of the country known as Papua New Guinea.
Ironically Papua New Guinea itself does not function all that well as a country, with Bouganville trying for independence, and the country and its people relating to their tribe, rather than feeling Papua New Guinean.
So, is West Papua a country?
No, it is not and we at YPT as usual take a very neutral approach to these things. We will say these through, ethnically they are very different which means it is still worth a visit when compared to Bali, or Jakarta.
To read about what counts as country click here.
Regardless of your thoughts on things we have a great tour planned for 2023, our first since Covid, which you can read about here.