Degree Name

Master of Arts


University of Wollongong. School of History and Politics


The purpose of this thesis was to examine the socio-economic, political and cultural effects on the lifestyles of the indigenous Melanesian inhabitants since the takeover of West Papua by the Republic of Indonesia in 1963. The takeover followed an extended dispute between The Netherlands and the Republic over the sovereignty of West Papua. This also involved the United States of America and, to a lesser extent, Australia and was brokered by the United Nations. To enable the indigenous population of Papua to decide its own future, the Act of Free Choice took place in 1969 and was settled in favour of the Republic of Indonesia. The indigenous people of West Papua claimed that the process of self-determination was flawed and that they had no say in deciding their own destiny.

It has been argued that international influences played a prominent role in this dilemma leading to a position that, in effect, the indigenous population had no say in the determination of their destiny. It was also claimed that the Indonesian government’s policies were concentrated towards the subjugation of these particular inhabitants. This raised the possibility of the eventual elimination of their cultural identity. An appraisal was also undertaken of several indigenous groups, bringing under consideration cultural, linguistic and religious characteristics which may contribute in some small way in forming an opinion on their ability to integrate into Indonesian society.

West Papuan nationalism was considered against a background of both theoretical and historical constructs to determine the basis of its origin and the strong sense of nationalism which has developed amongst the inhabitants. In this context the contribution of the separatist group known as Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM), Free Papua Movement, has also been appraised. Papuans suffered human rights violations by Indonesia, resulting in the death and injury of many. Dispossession of their traditional land and severe damage to their environment became a feature of life for the Papuans as Indonesia pressed forward with development of numerous large-scaleresource-based projects in their homeland.

Major conclusions reached are that a review of historical events and important meetings leading to the Act of Free Choice found no evidence that the indigenous inhabitants of Papua were included in the decision-making process and had no influence on the outcome which decided their destiny. There exists evidence of human rights violations and oppressive conduct exercised by Indonesia against some sections of the population of West Papua. This has fuelled the rise of Papuan nationalism.

The oppressive policies of the government of the Republic of Indonesia over four decades have not made any significant progress in its attempts to bring about the forceful integration of West Papuans. Various practices, generally referred to as Indonesianisation policies, including that of transmigration, have served to marginalise the indigenous population in their own land. For the present, the dilemma facing Papuans is a choice between accepting Indonesian government policy or continuing the struggle for Independence. For Indonesia the choices are to continue with present policies aimed at Indonesianising the Melanesian indigenous population or extending consideration such as meaningful special autonomy and eliminating oppressive actions against the indigenous inhabitants as a means of progressing a resolution of the dispute.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.