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Also known as Papua and West Papua, Western New Guinea is the western half of the island of New Guinea that was annexed by Indonesia in 1962, after which it was broken up into the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua. Sharing the island with the independent state of Papua New Guinea, Western New Guinea is the only part of Indonesia in Oceania. The territory includes the Raja Ampat and Schouten archipelagos.

New Guinea is the second largest island in the world, after Greenland. Western New Guinea is mostly covered with ancient rainforests that are home to several indigenous tribes, including many that have had no contact with Westerners. Most of the population resides along the coast areas, however, the majority of which are recent migrants from Java and other Indonesian provinces.

Western New Guinea has been controlled by Indonesia since May of 1963 and was officially made part of its territory since a controversial vote in 1969 that was closely monitored by the Indonesia military and marred by physical threats against native Papuans. At the time that the vote was scheduled, the Indonesian government claimed that the residents of West New Guinea were too primitive to be able to deal with democracy, and used a consensus of elders to determine the region's status. The participating elders were chosen by the Indonesian government, and were coerced into voting to become a part of Indonesia.

Although the western portion of New Guinea has had other names in the past, the current name used betrays the political orientation of the speaker. After the area came under the control of Indonesia, Indonesian officials have taken offense over the use of "West Papua" to refer to the region because they believe that the term implies that the region is not part of Indonesia. In 2003, the Indonesian government made the region into two provinces, West Papua and Papua. Ethnic Papuans prefer that the western half of the island be referred to as "West Papua," which is not the official name. Various organizations that have been established to work for the independence of the region from Indonesia tend to use the name "West Papua" to refer to the Indonesian held half of the island.

A mountain range, known as the Maoke Mountains, runs through the center of the island. This range includes about ten peaks, the largest of which are Puncak Jaya, Puncak Mandala, and Puncak Trikora, listed in order of height. Some of the peaks in this mountain range are high enough to sustain glaciers, and have snow year-round. This ensures a reliable supply of rainwater from the tropical atmosphere.

Its highland area features grasslands, rainforests and other types of forests, rivers, and gorges, while swamps dominate the southeastern part of the region. Western New Guinea has forty major rivers, twelve lakes, and forty islands. Its largest river, the Mamberamo, runs through the northern part of the territory.

Inhabitation of the region is believed to have begun as early as forty or 50,000 years ago. There is evidence of agriculture and cultivation in the highland regions for at least 7,000 years.

The interior is populated largely by ethnic Papuans, while the coastal towns largely house descendants of intermarriages and recent immigrants from Indonesia. There are an estimated 300 tribes or more living in the interior, some un-contacted. One of the larger tribes is the Dani, while other significant tribes include the Agats, Amungme, Asmat, Bauzi, Biak, Hatam, Korowai, Lani, Manikom, Marind, Mee, Mek, Sawi, and Yali. Some tribes have become extinct due to their resistance to acculturation. There have also been accusations of genocide toward ethnic Papuan tribes.

Among respondents to the most recent census, most of the people of Western New Guinea identify as Christian. Since the region has been in the control of Indonesia, its Muslim population has been increasing, and there is an assumption that there is a significant practice of animism within the major religions, as well as among the ethnic Papuans, which is not recorded by census.

The manner in which Indonesia took control of Western New Guinea has come under significant criticism, and several independence activists have been lobbying for independence for Western New Guinea. The United Nations has been appealed to repeatedly, but to no avail. Organizations have been established for the purpose of a new referendum and independence from Indonesian rule. A Federal Republic of West Papua, formed in 2011, is seeking recognition as an independent nation. The Free Papua Movement has engaged in conflict with the Indonesian military since the 1960s, and rebellions have occurred in the mountain regions. Leaders of several Pacific Island nations have called for UN action against reported human rights abuses. In response, Indonesia has accused them of interfering with its national sovereignty.

 

 

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