Strangers had little opportunity to penetrate into Papua. The inhabitants of the island were often hostile against newcomers. The area was also hardly accessible. The Papuans in the western Vogelkop only allowed a few traders to enter who maintained contact with Eastern Indonesia. The Dutch East Indies administration established a first post in Manokwari in 1898, on the northwest coast of what was called Dutch New-Guinea at the time. It was only in the course of the 20th century that the Papuas increasingly came into contact with the Dutch administration and the activities of mission and missionary work.
Under Indonesian administration
After the Japanese occupation Soekarno proclaimed the Republic of Indonesia in 1945. This was followed four years later by the transfer of sovereignty of Dutch East Indies to the new republic. New-Guinea was not part of the transfer and remained under Dutch administration. The Netherlands promised an independent Papua to the inhabitants of New-Guinea, the Papuans. Anticipating on this the country was given an own parliament, army and national anthem. However, New-Guinea came under Indonesian administration in 1963, against the wishes of the Netherlands and the Papuans, but under heavy pressure of the United States and the United Nations.
A popular vote among the Papuans in 1969, under supervision of the United Nations, sealed the fate of this last Dutch bastion in the East. The choice was to join Indonesia or have an independent Papua. The result was controversial. A total of 1,025 Papua electors were appointed to represent the population. However, it later turned out that the electors had been threatened, intimidated or bribed to vote in favour of joining Indonesia. As a result the Papuans never accepted the result and are still demanding a new popular vote with regard to the status of Papua. The Netherlands nevertheless accepted the result.
Resistance and escape
Hundreds of thousands of migrants from other Indonesian islands flocked into the thinly populated Papua since the 1970s. Indonesia did not tolerate any opposition from the Papuans and used the military to crack down on the population. Villages were bombarded, Papuan leaders murdered or detained. There was brute violence and discrimination. Human rights organisations estimated that there were 100,000 victims among the Papuans. Thousands of them fled the country and many escaped to the Netherlands. Others responded by using armed resistance and rose up in arms against the Indonesians. Native tribes had to make way for the unbridled exploitation of mineral resources and large-scale logging. When people spoke out they were detained or murdered without any form of process.
The end of the long dictatorship of president Suharto (1965-1998) brought new hope for Papua. The special Autonomy Act (2001) promised a fairer distribution of the revenues of the land and a greater freedom for the Papuans to experience their own cultural identity, so that they could shape their own future. However, Indonesia did not apply the Act in many ways. Violence is still being used against the population, there is no room for own traditions and expressions of freedom. The conduct of the Indonesians is arbitrary. There is much fear. A peaceful and prosperous Papua will only be possible when the rights of the Papuans are honored, when there is respect for the local cultures and when democratic structures are introduced.