West Papua or Western New Guinea was reclaimed by Indonesia from Netherland in 1969 and is the western half of the island of New Guinea and smaller islands to its west. The region is administered as two provinces: Papua and West Papua. The eastern half of New Guinea is Papua New Guinea. The population of approximately 3 million comprises ethnic Papuas, Melanesians, and Austronesians. The region is predominantly dense forest where numerous traditional tribes live such as the Dani of the Baliem Valley, although the majority of the populations live in or near coastal areas. The largest city in the region is Jayapura. The official and most commonly spoken language is Indonesia. Estimates of the number of tribal languages in the region range from 200 to over 700, with the most widely spoken including Dani, Yali, Ekari and Biak. The predominant religion is Christianity (often combined with traditional beliefs) followed by Islam. The main industries include agriculture, fishing, oil production, and mining.
Human habitation is estimated to have begun between 42,000 and 48,000 years ago. The Netherlands claimed the region and commenced missionary work in nineteenth century. The region was forcibly annexed by Indonesia in the 1960s, and has faced a violet separatist movement since then. Following the 1998 commencement of reforms across Indonesia, Papua and other Indonesian provinces received greater regional autonomy. In 2001, "Special Autonomy" status was granted to Papua province, although to date, implementation has been partial. The region was administered as a single province until 2003, when it was split into the provinces of Papua and West Papua.
Speakers align themselves with a political orientation when choosing a name for the western half of the island of New Guinea."West Papua", which is not the official name for the western half of the island, is preferred by ethnic Papuans. The region has had the official names of Netherlands New Guinea (1895-1962), West New Guinea (1962–63), West Irian (1963–73), Irian Jaya (1973–2001), and Papua (2002–2003). When the region was administratively one in Indonesia, Indonesian officials criticized activists' use of the term "West Papua", because they thought that the term implied that the province was not a part of Indonesia. Indonesian president considered his short-lived use of the name "Papua" in 2002 as a concession to the West Papuans. Since 2003, western New Guinea has had two provinces: the province of West Papua on the west, and the province of Papua on the east. Officials and administrators refer to the province when they say "West Papua"; independence activists mean the whole of western New Guinea.
The island of New Guinea was once part of the Australian landmass and lie on the Sahul. The collision between the Indo-Australian Plate and Pacific Plate resulting in the Maoke Mountains run through the centre of the region and are 600 km (373 mi) long and 100 km (62 mi) across. The range includes about ten peaks over 4,000 metres (13,120 feet), including Puncak Jaya (4,884), Puncak Mandala (4,760 m) and Puncak Trikora (4,750 m). The range ensures a steady supply of rain from the tropical atmosphere. The tree line is around 4,000 m (13,100 ft) and the tallest peaks feature small glaciers and are snowbound year round. Both north and west of the central ranges the land remains mountainous — mostly 1,000 to 2,000 m (3,300–6,660 ft) high with a warm humid climate year round. The highland areas feature alpine grasslands, jagged bare peaks, montane forest, rainforests, fast flowing rivers, and gorges. Swamps and low-lying alluvial plains of fertile soil dominate the southeastern section around the town of Merauke. Swamps also extend 300 km around the Asmat region.
The province has 40 major rivers, 12 lakes, and 40 islands. The Mamberamo river is the province's largest and runs through the north of the province. The result is a large area of lakes and rivers known as the Lakes Plains region. The southern lowlands, habitats of which included mangrove, tidal and freshwater swamp forest and lowland rainforest, are home to populations of fishermen and gatherers such as the Asmat people. The Baliem Valley, home of the Dani people, is tableland 1,600 m (5,250 ft) above sea level in the midst of the central mountain range.
The dry season across the region is generally between May and October; although drier in these months, rain persists throughout the year. Strong winds and rain are experienced along the north coast in November through to March. However, the south coast experiences an increase in wind and rain between April and October, which is the dry season in the Merauke area, the only part of West Papua to experience distinct seasons. Coastal areas are generally hot and humid, whereas the highland areas tend to be cooler.
Lying in the Asia-Australian transition zone near Wallacea, the region's flora and fauna include Asiatic, Australian, and endemic species. The region is 75% forest and it has a high degree of biodiversity. The island has an estimated 16,000 species of plant, 124 genera of which are endemic. The mountainous areas and the north are covered with dense rainforest. Highland vegetation also includes alpine grasslands, heath, pine forests, bush and scrub. The vegetation of the south coast includes mangroves and sago palms, and in the drier southeastern section, eucalypts, paperbarks, and acacias.
Marsupial species dominate the region; there are an estimated 70 marsupial species (including possum, wallabies, tree-kangoros, cuscus), and 180 other mammal species (including the endangered long-beaked echidna). The region is the only part of Indonesia to have kangaroos, marsupial mice, bandicoots, and ring-tailed possums. The approximately 700 bird species include cassowaries (along the southern coastal areas), bowerbirds, kingfishers, crowed pigeons, parrots, and cockatoos. Approximately 450 of these spieces are endemic. Birds of paradise can be found in Kepala Burung and Yapen. The region is also home to around 800 species of spiders, 200 frogs, 30,000 beetles, 70 bat species, the world's longest lizards (Papua monitor) and some of the world's largest butterflies. The waterways and wetlands of Papua are habitat for salt and freshwater crocodiles, tree monitors, flying foxes, ospreys, and other animals; while the equatorial glacier fields remain largely unexplored.
The Bird's Head Peninsula is covered by the Vogelkop Montane Rain Forests Ecoregion. It includes more than 22,000 km² of montane forests at elevations of 1,000 m and higher. Over 50% of these forests are located within protected areas. There are over 300 bird species on the peninsula, of which at least 20 are unique to the ecoregion, and some live only in very restricted areas. These include the grey-banded munia, Vogelkop bowerbird, and the king bird-of-paradise.
The population of the region was estimated to be 3,593,803 in 2010. The interior is predominantly populated by ethnic Papuans and coastal towns are inhabited by descendants of intermarriages between Papuans, Melanesians and Austronesians, including the Indonesian ethnic groups. Migrants from the rest of Indonesia also tend to inhabit the coastal regions. The two largest cities in the territory are Sorong in the northwest of the Bird's Head Peninsula and Jayapura in the northeast. Both cities have a population of approximately 200,000.
The region is home to around 312 different tribes, including some uncontacted peoples. The Dani, from the Baliem Valley, are one of the most populous tribes of the region. The Manikom and Hatam inhabit the Anggi Lakes area, and the Kanum and Marind are from near Merauke. The semi-nomadic Asmat inhabit the mangrove and tidal river areas near Agats and are renowned for their woodcarving. Other tribes include the Amungme, Bauzi, Biak (Byak), Korowai, Lani, Mee, Mek, Sawi, and Yali. Estimates of the number of distinct languages spoken in the region range from 200 to 700. A number of these languages are permanently disappearing.
As in Papua New Guinea and some surrounding east Indonesian provinces, a large majority of the population is Christian. In the 2000 census 54% identified themselves as Protestant, 24% as Catholic, 21% as Muslim, and less than 1% as either Hindu or Buddhist. There is also substantial practice of animism among the major religions, but this is not recorded by the census.