The name Carstenz Pyramid, as the tallest mountains in Indonesia are still sometimes called, is part of the Dutch legacy in West Papua. The traditional name,
Puncak Jaya, is becoming more widely used today.
Lake Sentani on the northwest coast of West Papua.
Freeport-McMoran, an American mining company, controls the largest gold and copper mine in the world - the Grasberg Mine. At 4km in diameter, it can be seen from space. The Indonesian military provides security for the company, which is Indonesia’s single largest taxpayer, supplying about 1.6% of the country’s GDP. Over 200,000 tonnes of toxic runoff spill into the local river system every day. Poverty is rampant among the Indigenous Amungme people, whose sacred mountain has been transformed into this massive hole in the ground. The mine is a flashpoint for conflict in the region, and is seen as symbolic of the political and economic inequality in West Papua.
Raja Ampat, off the northwest coast of West Papua, is home to the greatest underwater bio-diversity anywhere in the world. It is a little known mecca for scuba divers the world over.
In 2006, this traditional double-outrigger canoe landed near Darwin, Australia. 43 West Papuan refugees had spent 4 harrowing days aboard, crossing the Arafura Sea from West Papua. When the Australian Government granted each member of the journey political sanctuary, the Indonesian Government responded by withdrawing their ambassador from the Australian capital Canberra.
Some members of the group of 43 that crossed the Arafura Sea in 2006 became part of a band called Tabura, who blend traditional and contemporary music to tell the story of West Papua to world. In this photograph, urban roots band Blue King Brown brought members of Tabura on stage for their performance at Womadelaide Music Festival in 2012. The image sparked a diplomatic firestorm between Indonesia and Australia.
Greenpeace has called the massive deforestation of West Papua ‘alarming’. Massive palm oil plantations, industrial scale farming, and legal and illegal logging demands the estimated 300,000 hectares of unsustainable deforestation every year. Indigenous Papuans profit very little from this extraction, while their homes and way of life are constantly threatened.
The isolated Korowai tribes of southeastern Papua have been living in harmony with their jungle home for generations. They have gained international renown for their incredible architecture: they live in treehouses, some as tall as 35 meters.
Demonstrators march in support of a referendum for West Papua. The conflict here is largely borne out of the region’s annexation into the Republic of Indonesia in 1969. 50 years laters, cries for an opportunity to determine their own future are louder than ever.
A young girl paints her face with the outlawed Morning Star flag.
Peacefully raising this iconic flag has landed several activists in prison, with some serving sentences as long as 15 years.
Demonstrations like this are more common in West Papua every year.
The largest in recent history brought 20,000 West Papuans into the capital city of Jayapura. Sometimes these events conclude peacefully. Sometimes they do not.
Either way, the military maintains a strong presence.
A West Papuan woman blends tradition with modernity at an independence rally in the highland city of Wamena
West Papua is an extraordinary place, and it’s damn important that we know about it. It occupies the western half of the worlds second largest island, and is home to ancient cultures whose livelihood is bound to the rainforest – the largest in Asia. It’s reefs belong to the coral triangle, the most bio-diverse marine ecosystem in the world.
Official estimates range from 100,000 to 500,000 West Papuans having died as a result of the Indonesian government’s policies in this illegally annexed region (an ongoing media ban makes this figure impossible to verify). The slow-burning conflict is fueled by one of the highest military to civilian ratios in the world, while legal and illegal logging, mining and fishing uproot one of the world’s most diverse and valuable ecosystems. Profits from resource extraction trickle down in meagre amounts to West Papuans, whose home regularly ranks last out of Indonesia’s 33 provinces on markers for development like access to healthcare and education. Poverty is rampant.
It has been over 50 years since the occupation of West Papua by Indonesia began. This colonial era has been defined by long term imprisonment of peaceful activists, an undisciplined and abusive military presence, and the pouring out of tens of thousands of West Papuans as refugees. The story behind the conflict which has created these conditions is one of the greatest-ever gaps in reporting by the international media, as barriers set up through an intentionally entangled bureaucracy prevent international journalists from entering the region. In spite of this, the story has become widely available. 50 years of determined West Papuans have pushed it through the cracks. All the story needs is to be found, and told.
We invite you to educate yourself, and then become part of turning this little known conflict into household topic.
Read, watch, or search our online resources for more information.